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'Dire need' prompts early work on school

Already moving forward on design work for a new West Fargo elementary school may look a bit presumptuous to some residents, but time definitely is of the essence, board members caution.

During Monday's West Fargo School Board meeting at Westside Elementary School, members gave the nod to YHR Partners to begin design work on a new elementary school, which would be constructed on district property located at 26th Avenue South and 4th Street. The school would house approximately 600 students, with construction slated to begin this fall and completed by the 2012 school year.

West Fargo Business Manager Mark Lemer said the new school essentially will be based on Aurora Elementary School, "with some modifications to office space and the kitchens." By reusing Aurora's design plans, the district could save upwards of $200,000, Lemer said. Funding for the design work, which will cost more than $190,000, will either come from a successful bond vote or the sale of 10 mills from the district's building funds, he said.

A topic of discussion, however, was how the move by the district would look to the general public, especially considering the board has yet to even decide if it will hold a bond vote in May.

"This is absolutely what we need to do," board member Kay Kiefer said, "but is there a concern voters will think we're jumping the gun?"

Lemer said that certainly was a point, but that waiting until a possible bond referendum passed would mean critical construction time would be missed if the school is to be finished on time. If a bond instead were to pass at a later time, funding for the design work could be reimbursed, he said.

"With the (student) projections at our elementary schools, we're in dire need," board member Patti Stedman said. "Like it or not, this is smart ... a win-win-win situation."

"Think of the flipside," Superintendent Dr. David Flowers said. "If there is a positive voter response without the school, that won't look responsible, either."

Besides need for a new elementary, the West Fargo School District also has been looking at the need for up to four new school altogether, which could include another middle school and high school. The latter points, however, historically have been deal breakers for voters coming to the polls. The need for more elementary schools, on the other hand, is a bit better received by the public, Lemer said.

"We're certainly not suggesting we do this with a middle school or high school. There's a definite need at the elementary level, and people recognize the need," he said.

Projections for the district show it will need around 700 more elementary spaces, 750 middle school spaces and nearly 700 high school spaces by 2015.

If the board decides to hold a bond election it likely will do so by the end of March, board President Karen Nitzkorski said.