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Published January 23 2010

West Fargo vote to be held March 23

West Fargo voters can mark their calendars for March 23. That’s when they’ll return to the polls to vote on a new elementary school and a new high school.

The School Board unofficially decided Friday to move forward with plans for a referendum after architects confirmed they can build the two new schools for $40 million.

That’s $25 million less than last June’s building referendum voters shot down at the polls.

“It’s a simple plan,” Superintendent Dana Diesel Wallace said. “And we hope that it is more palatable to our constituents in terms of the impact it will have on them as taxpayers who fund our building projects.”

The School Board will likely meet in a special meeting within the next two weeks to officially pass a resolution setting the referendum date.

Then, board member Karen Nitzkorski said, they will have public meetings to discuss the vote.

If the March 23 referendum passes, the elementary school could open by fall 2011 and the new high school could open by fall 2012.

As a result, Diesel Wallace said, the new buildings will take care of overcrowding at elementary, middle and high schools – though only for another three to five years.

“It was a longer-term plan clearly,” Diesel Wallace said to board members about June’s referendum. “That’s the difference between the two (plans). If we keep growing as we’ve been, you’ll have to go back out (to voters to expand buildings).”

For now, the district has chopped out $25 million from last June’s referendum by omitting projects such as Horace Elementary and West Fargo High School expansions and scaling back other projects.

In this plan:

The reductions keep the total price tag to an estimated $40 million, which a majority of voters surveyed earlier this year said they’d support.

“My first reaction when I heard what you wanted was, ‘uh, no, not possible,’” architect Julie Rokke of Moorhead-based YHR Partners told board members about the $40 million limit. “(But) I think we can make it work.”

In fact, she said they can trim costs further with cheaper finishes.

The district could also sell off some of the 20-acre land the elementary school would be built on near 52nd Avenue in Fargo.

It’s all to keep the price tag low to make it more agreeable to voters.

“To me, it’s a no- brainer,” board member Duane Hanson said. “I can’t imagine a better scenario quite frankly.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515