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Helmut Schmidt, Published November 12 2012

Youth boom expected in West Fargo

WEST FARGO – Enrollment growth in the West Fargo School District will continue its torrid pace through about 2017, before moderating and leveling out a decade down the road, a demographic forecast indicates.

The 10-year enrollment forecast by McKibben Demographic Research shows that the district will grow from its current 8,056 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade to nearly 11,400 students by 2022-23 – making another new elementary an even stronger possibility, Superintendent David Flowers said.

For perspective, that’s more than the current enrollment of the Fargo School District, which opened the year with 10,857 students.

The projections by the South Carolina firm call for the district to have 8,529 students in pre-K-12 next fall; 8,996 in the 2014-15 school year; 9,428 in 2015-16; 9,846 in 2016-17, and 10,208 in 2017-18, McKibben forecasts.

It’s in 2018 that McKibben forecasts that the district’s elementary enrollment growth begins to slow.

Enrollment for the 2018-19 school year is forecast at 10,562, rising to 10,852 in 2019-2020; 11,094 in 2020-21; 11,311 in 2021-2022; and starting to plateau in 2022-23 at 11,395 students, McKibben forecasts.

The School Board’s planning and development committee has already seen the forecast. It will be presented to the full board at 6 p.m. tonight in the Leidal Education Center.

Flowers said Monday that the long-term forecast reinforces the decisions by the public and School Board to build more schools.

The 550-student Freedom Elementary opened full this fall. With more growth expected at the elementary level, the School Board recently voted to build another school a half mile east of Sheyenne 9th Grade Center on land purchased earlier this year. Construction on that school starts in May, Flowers said.

Another elementary school will likely be needed soon after that school is finished, Flowers said.

McKibben points out that most of the in-migration to the school district is occurring in the 0-to-9 and 25-to-39 age groups, or what would correspond to families with younger children.

“We know that there is a bubble working through that will demand more elementary space,” Flowers said. “I believe these forecasts point to the need for another elementary school relatively soon.”

Liberty Middle School comes on line in August, and Sheyenne will become a high school with the completion of its academic wing at the same time, district officials have said.

Flowers said McKibben emphasizes that the forecast is built upon 20 assumptions, including such things as fertility rates, in-migration rates and whether a Red River diversion channel is built to protect the Fargo-Moorhead metro area.

Flowers said Cheney Middle School and Liberty Middle School together will give the district space for 2,700 students. That should handle enrollment in grades 6-8 through 2019-2020, when enrollment is expected to hit 2,725.

Middle school enrollment is forecast to top out at 2,775 in 2021-22, before dropping to 2,749 in 2022-23, McKibben reports.

“We probably have built the right amount of middle school space, and it will take several years to fill that,” Flowers said.

For grades 9-12, the district will have the capacity for 3,000 students between West Fargo High School and Sheyenne High, Flowers said.

The district doesn’t meet that mark until 2020-21, which 3,112 students are expected. But that’s also when today’s elementary students will begin to graduate.

By 2022-23, the district will have 3,546 high school students, McKibben forecasts.

“Somewhere out about seven or eight years from now the district will have to look and see if the forecasts are holding true and whether we have enough high school capacity,” Flowers said.

Flowers said the district will have to consider what to do with the extra 300 to 500 students.

“The most expensive thing a school district can do is build a high school,” Flowers said. “I certainly wouldn’t look at these figures and say definitely we’re going to need a new high school.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583


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