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Wendy Reuer, Published December 18 2013

WF schools deal with city's rapid growth

WEST FARGO – By this time next year, the school district here will have two new elementary schools and a third one under construction, and it may have to keep building if the city continues to grow at its current rate.

The growth means changes will be needed in current school attendance areas, Superintendent David Flowers said Wednesday.

To deal with these issues, the district created a Long Range Facilities and Boundary Committee – composed of about 17 school staff members, board members and parents. Its goal is to make short-term and long-term recommendations to the school board.

Committee members met for the second time Wednesday night, and focused on gathering information that will help them make their recommendations, Flowers said.

District leaders know they’ll have to keep up with West Fargo’s fast-paced residential growth to avoid overcrowding in current schools, especially to the south.

“The area south of the interstate (94) could be full in six years,” City Planning Director Larry Weil told committee members. “At our current rate, that would have utilized all of our residential land.”

Weil said 835 residential building permits were issued in 2012. Of those, 405 were single-family and twin homes, a large jump from 2011 when a total of 303 residential permits were issued.

The city saw record growth in 2004 and 2005, Weil said, when more than 1,000 building permits were requested, but the numbers dropped off to a couple hundred in 2006 through 2010 before starting to rise again.

In order to handle this growth, the district opened Freedom Elementary School at full capacity in 2012, and is expected to open the 550-student Independence Elementary at 54th Street South in Fargo at full capacity in fall 2014.

In July, the school board approved using savings from other construction projects and other funds to build another new 550-student elementary school in the area of The Wilds subdivision. The school will help accommodate growth south of Interstate 94, district officials have said.

And in August, the former Sheyenne 9th Grade Center opened a new academic expansion to become the district’s second high school, Sheyenne High School.

Flowers said the two high schools can take care of about 3,100 students, but the three new elementary schools are expected to feed a number that exceeds that capacity to the high schools by about 2017. About 3,546 students are expected to be enrolled in the West Fargo high schools by 2022.

The committee will consider whether a third high school is needed or if the growth can be handled with special grade configurations such as moving sixth-graders out of elementary schools, adding kindergarten centers or using magnet schools.

While the southern part of the city is growing rapidly, Flowers pointed out that surrounding area growth also needs to be considered when planning for enrollment because the West Fargo district includes parts of Harwood and Horace. Both communities are home to an elementary school.

“I think you’ll see the area of Horace develop, but I think it will be at a much slower rate,” Weil said.

The committee’s next meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 8 at the Leidal Education Center. It may begin to discuss potential boundary changes.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530