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West Fargo school bond referendum passes by 4-to-1 margin

The West Fargo School Board and supporters celebrate the passing of a $98.1 million bond referendum for the school district Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, at the district offices. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

West Fargo School District officials want to get a new pool and elementary school under construction by spring after voters overwhelmingly approved a $98.1 million bond referendum last week, giving the OK to a slate of projects that include two new elementary schools, a new indoor ice rink and a community aquatic center.

On Monday, the school board and Cass County auditor's staff made the Nov. 17 votes official by canvassing the results that found nearly 80 percent of voters approved of the bond issue to 20 percent against.

"I'm just overwhelmed by how positive these results are," Superintendent David Flowers said to a crowd of about 30 residents who filled the district's Leidel Education Center on Nov. 17 as the votes were counted. "As you know it's a heavy lift in North Dakota, it has to be 60 percent [to pass]."

Voter turnout was 6,064, lower than the last bond issue that passed in 2011, which 70 percent of 7,420 voters approved. A total of 4,831 votes were cast Nov. 17 in favor of the bond issue, with 1,233 people voting against it.

School officials decided in September to ask voters to approve the bond. It will fund additions and renovations to current schools as well as two new elementary schools — one north of Interstate 94 and one south of I-94 in the Brooks Harbor neighborhood. More than one-third of the spending will go toward big-ticket recreational amenities: a $18.5 million community aquatic center and a $16.5 million two-sheet ice facility.

By next summer, the district expects to have six construction projects underway and by fall 2017, there will be 11 construction projects ongoing in the district. All projects are expected to wrap up by 2018.

Plans for the new community aquatics center — which will be built at L.E. Berger Elementary School, where the district's sole pool is located — will depend somewhat on private fundraising. The community group UP Aquatics has been trying to raise $4 million to enhance the aquatic facility and include a 66-meter pool rather than the planned 52-meter pool.

UP Aquatics lead fundraiser Karen Nitzkorski said the group has raised just shy of $2.6 million. She said the group plans to continue fundraising until it hits the $4 million mark, but it likely has enough at this time to help pay for the larger pool.

On Monday, the school board entered into a written agreement with UP Aquatics to formalize plans to use the additional money for a larger pool and other amenities. Architects are working on design plans and how to incorporate the additional money that private fundraising will add.

Nitzkorski said the group has primarily raised donations through private and corporate sponsorships, including one large donation of $1 million. Now the group plans to turn to the public and ask for help in raising the remaining funds toward its goal.

In the agreement with UP Aquatics, the school board authorized the group to offer naming rights to aspects of the facility. Donors of more than $1 million may be offered naming rights to the pool itself, but the school board will have final approval of any proposed pool names.

Along with the main pool, the aquatic facility will have a warm water, or therapy pool, diving wells and seating for events. While the pool's primary use will be for high school swim teams, it will also available for activities such as open swimming, intramurals, therapy, swimming lessons, birthday parties and community swim teams.

The ice arena will also be open to the public. Because it will likely be built on the south side of I-94, the Sheyenne Mustangs will likely be the arena's primary user, district officials have said. A location for the arena hasn't been decided.

The district has not yet determined details of the pool and ice arena operation, Flowers said.

An easy sell

Flowers said the additions are needed to keep up with an exploding enrollment growth. The district expects to grow by 60 percent in the next 10 years.

No organized opposition group formed to challenge the borrowing plan, which required 60 percent approval to pass. Supporters were easy to find at the polls Tuesday.

The 2011 bond issue approved $82 million in borrowing to turn Sheyenne 9th Grade Center into a second high school and build Liberty Middle School and Freedom, Independence and Legacy elementary schools.

Despite putting two bond referendums on the ballot in the past four years, the district may return to voters in a few years and ask for funding to build a third high school and third middle school.

Earlier this year, a 40-person community group identified a $200 million wish list of projects for the district to accommodate growth but decided to break the bond referendum into two parts.

While Flowers initially expected a second bond to come as soon as 2017, he is now focusing on current district needs.

Polling siteYes votesNo votesTotal votesPercentage
Aurora Elementary5357961487.13%
Harwood Comm.Center15212027255.88%
Horace Senior Center3189541377%
Sheyenne High1135209134484.45%
Veterans Mem. Arena1943481242480.16%
Westside Elementary63520383875.78%
Absentee1134615971.07%
Totals48311233606479.67%

Projects at a glance

Construction would start in 2016 on:

• $13.75 million new elementary school in the Brooks Harbor area.

• $18.5 million pool and a remodel of the existing L.E. Berger pool.

• $7.3 million additions to West Fargo High School, including an auxiliary gym, multiuse space and other classroom additions.

• $4.4 million addition to L.E. Berger Elementary School and additions that will start at a later date.

• $16.5 million ice facility.

Projects to start in 2017 and 2018 include:

• $15.4 million three-section northside elementary school.

• $2.25 conversion of Osgood Kindergarten Center to a kindergarten-through-fifth-grade school.

• $2 million addition to Horace Elementary School.

• $7 million transportation facility and central maintenance building.

• $1.75 million central kitchen.

• $1.1 million musical space addition to Cheney Middle School.

Ongoing projects will be:

• $525,000 standardizing and upgrading all elementary playgrounds.

• $1 million increased security measures.

• $145,000 upgrade to sound systems.

Wendy Reuer

Wendy reports for The Forum and West Fargo Pioneer, where she is also assistant editor. A University of Minnesota Morris graduate from North Dakota, Wendy started her career in television news and entertainment in Minnesota and at CBS in Television City, Calif. before working at newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota. 

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