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Helmut Schmidt, Published July 22 2013

West Fargo votes to finance another elementary school without public vote

WEST FARGO – The West Fargo School Board voted 6-0 Monday to use money saved from other school construction projects and mills from its building fund levy to finance another elementary school.

Board members agreed the public voted them the authority to use available mills in the 10-mill building fund levy, and any excess from 2011’s $82.5 million bond vote, to cover the district’s needs.

They also agreed that with enrollment growing quickly south of Interstate 94, time is too short to call a referendum that could fail, then still have time to act to build a needed school.

“When you’re growing at an elementary level at 300” kids per year, “in two years, that’s one school,” board member Dave Olson said.

“We are in an explosion of elementary kids, and we have to do something to get ahead of it,” Olson said. “In that area (south of I-94), I think the (growth) numbers are conservative. I think they’re going to blow us away with numbers.”

The school district opened Freedom Elementary School full in 2012, and is expected to open a school at 54th Street South in Fargo full in 2014, officials said.

School board member Jeff Shirley called the move “a conservative use of taxpayer money” by using the savings from previous projects.

A new 550-student elementary school similar to Aurora or Freedom elementary could cost $11 million to $13 million fully outfitted, district officials have said.

The district has one elementary building site just north of the Deer Creek subdivision and south of 52nd Avenue South in Fargo.

Superintendent David Flowers said the building fund was approved by voters in 1953.

Business Manager Mark Lemer said three possible scenarios have been worked up for financing the elementary school, so far.

Likely options for using the building fund levy range from tapping it for 2.9 to 3.96 mills, he said.

By using the middle-road option of 3.25 mills, $10 million in bonds could be issued in 2014-15 to help pay for the school, Lemer said.

The rest of the money would come from $1,037,966 in unobligated funds from the 2011 bond issue, plus contingency funds unlikely to be used from several projects. The funds include: $115,000 from the elementary school going up at 54th Street South; $750,000 from building Liberty Middle School; $400,000 from building Sheyenne High School phase I; $230,000 from Sheyenne High School Phase II; and $250,000 from the Fargo Park District for use of the 54th Street South school’s gym.

Combined, those sources provide nearly $12.8 million to pay for a school.

Lemer said the building fund has mills left to cover major repairs to schools or parking lots. He said the board can also adjust its budgets to come up with the funds to staff its new schools.

Lemer said the board will have to take several more votes before a school can be built, including dedicating the building fund mills, which requires a protest period; authorizing an architect; authorizing the debt; and bidding the project.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583