Public meeting planned on new elementary schools in Williston

Possibility of building new elementary schools

Williston Public School District No. 1 will hold a public meeting early next month about the possibility of building new elementary schools.

Consultants told the school board Monday that two new elementary schools would cost Williston Public School District No. 1 about $66 million. Another option, building the two new schools and an addition to Williston High School, would cost about $76 million.

Lee Dobrinz, with JLG Architects, told the board that the latter option made a lot of sense.

“It seems to get you the most bang for your buck, enrollment-wise,” Dobrinz said, adding that it could also be covered by a bond referendum.

The board voted 5-0 to have JLG continue with the process, including meeting with district staff starting this week and scheduling a public meeting for the first week of December.

The plan JLG presented to the board called for rebuilding Wilkinson and Rickard elementaries, giving each a capacity of about 600 students. That would also decrease the number of portable classrooms the district used.

“We can’t seem to quite get you out of portables yet, because you’re growing so rapidly,” Ted Roseboom with JLG told the board.

The plan aimed to get the district close to an enrollment of 5,200, or about 400 students each in grades kindergarten through 12.

Roseboom said he knew that some people in the community might have questions about why JLG was suggesting the district already needed to add on to the high school, which opened in fall 2016, rather than building in extra capacity from the beginning.

“We’re trying to keep you up to your enrollments,” he said. “We can’t get ahead of it. It’s unaffordable in some cases.”

And if the district were to ask the community to pay to build a school that would have excess capacity, there is the risk of that request being rejected, he said.

Dobrinz said the public meeting would likely run in a similar way to what happened when the district was considering the new high school in 2014. That would include multiple stations and a chance to attendees to offer feedback on the plan. He said JLG envisioned holding one session, so as many people as possible could have their say at the same time.

“It’s important to have that public buy-in if you want to be successful,” he said.

Board member Heather Wheeler, who made the motion to have JLG go ahead with its plan for meetings with staff and the public, said it was time to bring the proposal to the public.

“I don’t think we should wait much longer,” she said.

JLG plans to come before the board in December to give a roundup of the public feedback and lay out the next steps, Dobrinz said.