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WF Schools may ask voters for more buildings to ease crowding

West Fargo School District voters could soon be asked to approve a roughly $100 million building bond to ease overcrowding.

The West Fargo School Board will hold a workshop 5-9 p.m. on Tuesday, April 24, to consider a bond referendum that would build a third high school and middle school as well as additions to elementary schools across the district based on recommendations by a long-range facilities task force.

The task force, which was comprised of district staff, parents and community members, met five times since December to examine how to address future overcrowding of district schools. Liberty Middle School is expected to be at capacity by the fall, with Cheney Middle School soon to follow. Internal and external projections say that by the 2020-21 school year, the district high schools will be over capacity of 3,100 — or 1,550 per school. Sheyenne will crowd first followed by West Fargo High School. The school district projects as many as 1,840 students at Sheyenne in 2020-21.

The task force ranked about eight projects to be included in a bond referendum. They decided on five top priorities that include:

• Build a third high school and middle school

• An addition to Harwood Elementary School that would add a gymnasium and more classrooms

• Art and music additions for elementary schools that currently do not have dedicated spaces

• Security upgrades

• Additions to Horace

Business Manager Mark Lemer said the district could bond about $100 million without raising taxes due to expiring debts and current building funds.

The situation is similar to when voters overwhelming approved a $98.1 million bond in 2015 that helped pay for two new elementary schools, a new hockey facility and aquatic center, security upgrades and additions to West Fargo High School and other elementary schools.

Superintendent David Flowers, who led the task force meetings, said if the board decides to put a bond to voters, it would have to be after his June 30 retirement date.

"The ship has sailed on being able to do it in June during the general election and before I leave," Flowers said.

Breaking down the costs

While the task force found it would be cheaper to build one large high school and middle school building for about $66.25 million, members preferred the district build two buildings, a 600-capacity middle school with room for expansion and an 800-capacity high school for about $82.75 million.

An additional at Harwood would likely cost about $6.9 million to add a gym and 12 classrooms, enough for a two-section school.

Flowers said the school needs a gym now, but the additional classroom space will be determined by enrollment.

The task force estimated it would cost $2.25 million for additions to Aurora, Independence and Freedom Elementary Schools for gifted and art space, additions to Eastwood for gifted students and a staff lounge. Eastwood is the only elementary school without a staff lounge.

The task force supported spending $82.75 million for a new 600-student middle school and 800-student high school rather than spend $66.25 million for one large school that could house both.

The task force also looked at about $2 million in security upgrades that are still needed despite additional security measures that have been placed in schools using money from the 2015 bond referendum and federal grant money.

"We've done things with our entrances, we installed panic buttons, we upgraded our office systems," District Spokeswoman Heather Konschak said. "We've done a lot of things, but as you can imagine, there is always more in areas of safety and security."

Konschak would like to add a blue light system, which would emit a blue light in the major traffic areas along with an announcement to alert students and staff at times of a lockdown.

The district is considering an expansion to Horace Elementary that would create four classrooms per grade level for about $6.5 milion. The projected new housing in Horace would create a need to expand the school, Flowers said.

The task force did not strongly support building a career technical academy, a similar school to that found in Bismarck, that would partner with North Dakota State College of Science to offer career-specific classes. A private regional fundraising group has raised about $9 million for the school that could be used by Fargo and Moorhead students also. Flowers said the two school districts would support operations, but not building.

"We don't believe Fargo or Moorhead is at the table anymore for bricks and mortar," Flowers said.

The addition of turf fields was considered, but not strongly supported by the task force. However, efforts are already underway for the project.

Booster clubs at both Sheyenne and West Fargo High Schools are currently trying to raise enough money for turf fields at each school.

"This really is a community venture," Sheyenne Athletic Director Ross Richards said at a task force meeting. "We're not going to look at putting turf at one school and not another."

The School Board workshop will be held at the Leidal Education Center, 207 Main Ave. W., West Fargo.

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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