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West Fargo Schools to ask voters for $106.9 million bond referendum at special election

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WEST FARGO—Voters in the West Fargo School District will be asked to approve a $106.9 million bond referendum in September to build a third high school and middle school as well as three turf fields, and additions to elementary schools to keep up with its fast growing student population.

The West Fargo School Board approved holding a special election on Sept. 25 at its Tuesday, May 29 meeting.

The referendum would include money for:

• $88.5 million: New Middle School with a capacity of 800 and High School with the capacity of 1,000

• $3 million: Harwood gym addition and a secure entrance

• $3 million: Basic installation of artificial fields at all three high schools

• $1.525 million: Elementary art and gifted classrooms at elementaries that do not have them

• $2 million: General security upgrades such as remodeled entrances, camera systems and blue light systems

• $2.1 million: Secured entrances at the elementary schools that do not have them

• $6.8 million: Horace to four track school, or four classes for each grade

The board considered building a single building for grades six through 12, with a capacity of 1,500 which would have cost about $67 million. But, the district would likely run into overcrowding again and may have to build yet again soon after, Business Manager Mark Lemer said. Building two buildings gives the district more flexibility in the event it has to add on to the new buildings, he said.

Both Sheyenne High School and West Fargo High School will be over the combined capacity of 3,100 by 2021. Liberty Middle School is expected to be at capacity by the fall, with Cheney Middle School soon to follow.

The board decided not to include $4.7 million for Harwood classroom additions as the school's current population doesn't warrant it. It also decided not build a special Level D facility that would house students with severe behavioral needs for at least $7 million.

"I don't think we have enough information to move forward," Board President Kara Gravely-Stack said.

However, the board was mixed on whether or not it should add $3 million for installing artificial turf at every high school.

"We're more short of green space than we are of gym space," said Allen Burgad, assistant superintendent of secondary education. Burgad said the artificial turf would allow more use of the fields than natural fields currently do and turf has been proven to be less conducive to injuries than natural fields.

The School District had committed to giving $1 milion from the building fund to help pay for artificial turf at the existing two high schools while the Mustang and Packer booster clubs are working to raise about $2 million for the three fields. However, the booster clubs have currently raised only about $600,000 after nearly a year of effort.

"I think it's a nicety but it's not a necessity, which is why I like that the parent groups are involved," Board Member Patti Stedman said. "This is a hard one for me, it's not classroom space, it's not a pool, it's not something new. It's something that we are going to take what we have and change it."

Stedman said she will support adding turf into the bond, with the expectation that community groups can help raise money to upgrade the facilities or help pay for equipment that will be needed.

The bond mirrors the projections of the community task force that was formed in 2015 to pass the $98.1 million bond. The referendum that was overwhelmingly passed helped pay for two new elementary schools, additions to West Fargo High School and other buildings as well as a new hockey arena and aquatic center.

To repay the bond, the district will have to not substantially increase its milly levy because the district will be paying off a number of debts in the upcoming years and its tax base continues to grow each year as West Fargo and Fargo populations grow, Lemer said.

Lemer said he did not have calculations of the bond's impact on taxpayers on Tuesday but planned to have those to the board by its next meeting.

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. 

(701) 241-5530
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