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School board approves another elementary school

The West Fargo School District has hardly broken ground on their upcoming elementary school -- and has not officially named it yet, simply referring to it as the 54th Street Elementary School -- but the School Board has already approved the construction of yet another elementary school, which will be built in time for the 2015-2016 school year.

In Monday's meeting, the board unanimously approved a request by the district's Long Range Facility Planning Committee to build the next elementary school on 52nd Avenue using the remaining funds from 2011's $82.5 million bond referendum, along with a portion of the district's 10-mill building fund, which was approved by voters in the 1950s and used to open the Osgood Kindergarten Center.

The new school, which will house 550 students and be laid out in a similar fashion to Freedom Elementary, could cost up to $13 million.

The district's use of the remaining bond means that this decision, in which the district has little choice but to build another school to coincide with skyrocketing enrollment, will not be placed in the hands of voters. Therefore, there will be no tax increase this time around.

On the other hand, this project will now consume a great deal of district resources that may have been used for other needs, such as an additional indoor swimming pool or hockey rink as the district must now maintain two high schools with a plethora of varsity programs.

The board was presented with three other scenarios for funding another school, all of which called for a public vote, but saw this option as the best way to appeal to voters as well as grow along with the population south of I-94, as calling for a vote takes time and may further delay the school's construction.

By the fall of 2015, officials expect roughly 4,750 elementary-age students to be enrolled in the district, which will be the district's capacity once the 54th Street school opens its doors.

"Even with the 54th Street school, we are bumping up against (capacity) in a few years," superintendent David Flowers said. "It is a very real possibility that that school will open full in the the fall of 2014. If you just drive in that area, you'll see how much activity there is."

With the growing activity in the area, board members agreed that building the school as quickly as possible was the right thing for the community, as it may prevent elementary students from being housed in Liberty Middle School, as well as prevent a yearly school change that several students have had to experience.

"When you're growing at the elementary level at 300-plus 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 got to do something to get ahead of it. In that area... I think they are going to blow us away with numbers. It's nothing but young kids, and new houses are going up almost daily."

With the resources consumed by this project, there was some concern amongst the board that the district would have difficulty affording essential things, a concern Flowers understood.

"When you are growing at the rate we are, and not being funded wholly for each child, it makes things tough."

However, business manager Mark Lemer insisted that funds will still be available for necessary improvements and general maintenance as needed.

"In none of the scenarios did we assume we were going to consume the entire 10 mills that we would levy on an annual basis," Lemer said. "We have left some of that available, uncommitted, for debt repayment so that we would have flexibility for roof replacement, parking lot improvements, small renovations, carpet replacements and all of those things."

According to the Long Range Facility Planning Committee, one issue with using the remaining bond funds instead of bringing the project to a public vote is that voters may feel that they lost control of taxpayer money, but board member Jeff Shirley did not echo this sentiment.

"It doesn't make sense, to me, to call for a bond issue when we have some of the money in place already," Shirley said. "(Voters) should be happy there is enough left of the bond to consider this. That's a conservative use of taxpayer money. This is right for the kids and for the taxpayers."

Karen Nitzkorski was the only board member not in attendance.