Voters to weigh in on new school project

Williston Public School District No. 1

At its meeting in January, the board for Williston Public School District No. 1 is expected to set a date for a bond referendum for a $76 million project to build new elementary schools.

The tentative date, discussed at the December board meeting, is March 20.

The district has been working with JLG Architects, the firm that handled building the new high school, to plan for enrollment growth. After a series of public meetings and a look at projected growth, the current proposal is to build two new elementary schools, each with a capacity of about 600 students, along with an addition to the recently finished high school. That would increase the district’s capacity from about 4,000 students to about 5,000.

The district is also planning to move fifth graders from Bakken Elementary, which opened in the former high school building in 2016, to elementary schools around the district.

Enrollment has shot up in the district, growing from 2,110 in 2007 to 4,131 this year. That number has outpaced projections, and the district expects to have 5,000 students enrolled by 2022.

District 1 was the second-fastest growing district in the state this year, adding 241 students between the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years. Only West Fargo, which added 546 students, outpaced that growth.

Of the district’s eight main school buildings, five are over capacity. Williston Middle School, which has a capacity of 400, is the most crowded, with 579 students. McVay Elementary has capacity of 325 students and 412 students currently enrolled.

The three schools still below capacity are nearing their limits, as well. The new high school, which opened in 2016, added room for about 1,200 students, but is already almost full, with 1,186 enrolled, and Bakken Elementary, which has a capacity of 700, has 629 students this year. Rickard Elementary has space for 325 students and has 263 enrolled.

Consultants for JLG have explained their proposal as offering the district the most value. The company’s assessment highlighted six major projects for the district: two elementary schools, two additions or renovations to Williston Middle School and two additions to the high school. Altogether, these would increase the district’s capacity to 5,025 students from the current 3,955.

The total cost for that would be nearly $98 million, which, since the district’s taxable valuation decreased this year, is too great a burden, they said.

By building two elementary schools and one addition to the high school, the district would boost its capacity to 4,925 and the cost would be $76.2 million.

The project hasn’t been finalized yet. Between January and the likely referendum date in March, the district plans on holding at least one more public meeting. It is also collecting responses to a survey about the project. The responses to the survey and the results of the next public meeting will influence the proposal that goes up for a vote.