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'Small town, big-city amenities': Central Cass readies for unveiling ceremony of $26 million renovation

An architect's rendering of the Central Cass campus. Submitted photo1 / 5
Casselton Park and Rec partnered with Central Cass Schools to create the Community Wellness Center, which was funded by a ½-percent sales tax increase approved by voters.2 / 5
Central Cass Superintendent Morgan Forness said one of the features of the new school he's most proud of is the state-of-the-art STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) wing. 3 / 5
A look inside the elementary lunchroom at Central Cass. 4 / 5
Central Cass Schools is unveiling a new and improved campus Thursday, Oct. 11. The $26 million upgrade combined private and public dollars, as well as partnerships with Casselton Park and Rec and the City of Casselton. Photos courtesy of Mistie Holland 5 / 5

CASSELTON, N.D. — Central Cass Schools is unveiling a $26 million upgrade and remodel of its K-12 school that Superintendent Morgan Forness describes as "mindblowing."

"It's a new dawn and new beginning for education in Central Cass," he said. "Now that it's complete and seeing the end result, I've heard nothing but positive comments."

Funding the school renovation and new elementary was a two-year process combining public and private dollars.

The community passed an $18 million referendum in 2016 and the remaining $8 million is made up of donations and fundraising from about 150 individuals and businesses.

"It's unprecedented the kind of support we got," Forness continued. "For a community the size of Casselton, to raise that kind of money in 18 months is amazing."

Forness is inviting the community and supporters to a dedication ceremony Thursday, Oct. 11.

The event will be held at 1 p.m., on the new and improved campus at 802 5th St. N.

United Way President Kristi Huber will be the keynote speaker, followed by a program at 2:30 p.m. featuring: Levi Bachmeier, of the Governor's Office; Robert Christman, with the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction; and Dr. Philip Austin, of the University of Connecticut.

Forness said that as of Friday, Oct. 5, the K-12 building was 100 percent occupied.

At the start of the school year, there was some remaining work in the state-of-the-art STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) wing, as well as the 800-seat theater and activities area. But, all was wrapped up in time for the upcoming ceremony.

Included in the $26 million project is new teaching spaces, an early childhood center and an upgraded athletics complex, the latter courtesy of a large donation from Gary Tharaldson, an entrepreneur who owns the ethanol plant in Casselton.

The theater and Community Wellness Center, run by Casselton Parks and Rec, was made possible by residents voting in favor of a ½-percent sales tax increase.

Planning of the project started back in 2015, with the school board concerned about overcrowding in the growing district.

Enrollment this school year is just shy of 960 students, which Forness said represents 20 percent growth that exceeded projections.

Students come from the communities of Chafee, Embden, Lynchburg, Amenia, Wheatland, Prosper, Absaraka, Durbin and Mapleton.

Including staff, there are about 1,100 people under one roof each day, so Central Cass is basically "a small town in one building," Forness said.

Now, everything in the center of town is either new or remodeled, according to Forness.

"It's a small town with big-city amenities," he added.

The building's oldest wing, built in 1940, was torn down, while the old elementary was renovated to serve middle school STEM activities.

The brand new elementary serves preschool, kindergarten, and first and second grades.

There is also room to expand elementary space if enrollment continues to grow, Forness said.

'If You Go'

What: Central Cass dedication ceremony

When: 1 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 11

Where: 802 5th St. N., Casselton

Kim Hyatt

Kim Hyatt is a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and a 2014 graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth. She started her newspaper career at the Owatonna People’s Press covering arts and education. In 2016, she received Minnesota Newspaper Association's Dave Pyle New Journalist Award and later that year she joined The Forum newsroom.

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