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Helmut Schmidt, Published July 08 2013

West Fargo mulls new school financing

WEST FARGO – With continued fast growth at the elementary school level, the West Fargo School District has reformed a Long Range Facility Planning Committee to get recommendations on how another school should be financed.

Officials say a school now going up north of the Osgood housing development on 54th Street South will probably open full next fall, as did Freedom Elementary in 2012.

“The scary part of this is we’re hitting the high end of the (enrollment) projections,” Dave Olson told fellow school board members Monday. “We’re hitting them high and faster than expected.”

Projections from RSP & Associates in 2011 estimated elementary enrollment this fall at 4,101 and growing to 4,307 in 2014-15.

However, new school district projections from

McKibben Demographic Research put elementary enrollment at 4,409 this fall and 4,702 next fall, topping out at 5,183 students in the 2018-19 school year.

Superintendent David Flowers and Olson said that means another elementary school will be needed beyond the two authorized in the $82.5 million bond issue approved by voters in 2011.

That bond issue included turning Sheyenne 9th Grade Center into a high school and building Liberty Middle School, plus creating a ninth-grade center at West Fargo High School.

“We need to get over the hump here with another school,” Flowers said.

The school board is trying to decide if it should go to voters for the OK to bond for an elementary school (roughly $11 million to

$13 million equipped), perhaps pairing it with another district need, such as an indoor swimming pool or hockey ice rinks.

Or, whether it’s better to try to finance the cost of the school from money left over from construction savings from the 2011 bond, combined with other district funding sources.

The facility planning group is asking community members what would be the best way to pay for another school.

The district owns 13 acres of land for an elementary school north of the Deer Creek subdivision and just south of Rocking Horse Farm subdivision on 52nd Avenue South, Flowers said.

Olson said the board wants to stick to the neighborhood schools philosophy and probably won’t buy more land until it knows where housing is going up quickest.

“What is safe to say is one more (school) right now. I think two is jumping the gun,” Olson said.

With Sheyenne High and Liberty Middle schools opening this fall, the district is set for secondary-level space for now, Flowers said, with capacity in the two middle schools of 2,700 and two comprehensive high schools of 3,100 students.

But McKibben demographers estimate that by 2019-20, middle school enrollment will be 2,725. And by 2020-21, the district will have 3,112 students in grades 9-12, with another 250-student increase the following year.

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