FARGO — A unanimous vote by the Fargo School Board brought a new 8th-9th grade school one step closer to being built.

The board on Tuesday, Sept. 10, updated its long-range facility plan, which now contemplates embarking on the design phase of the new school in the fall of 2020, with a possible groundbreaking in the spring of 2021.

The 8th-9th grade facility, also described as a modified middle school, would open in the fall of 2023, under the newly updated long-range facility plan.

Superintendent Rupak Gandhi stressed, however, that when it comes to a new middle school the long-range facility plan is viewed by school officials as a guiding document, not a concrete plan. He said only "soft timelines" exist for when phases may take place.

Gandhi said funding sources required for a new building are still being worked out. He said the school board's planning committee could be presented with a financial plan connected with a new middle school on Tuesday, Sept. 17, with the school board getting the information at a later date.

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Gandhi said the move toward building a new middle school represents a clear shift away from talk of redrawing school boundaries as a way of addressing overcrowding at Davies High School and Discovery Middle School. The idea of redrawing school boundaries has met with strong public opposition in the past.

When it comes to K-12 facilities, the district currently has 23 schools. They include 16 elementary schools, three middle schools, and four high schools, one of them — Woodrow Wilson — being an alternative high school. The elementary schools include two sets of paired schools: Horace Mann-Roosevelt and Clara Barton-Hawthorne.

The most recent middle school built in Fargo, Carl Ben Eielson, opened in 2006.

Gandhi said the new 8th-9th grade school contemplated in the long-range facility plan would not be a traditional middle school to start with. Instead, it would be designed to alleviate overcrowding at Davies High School and Discovery Middle School.

He added, however, that the facility could become a traditional middle school at some point.

"We're looking at, down the road, having a true feeder pattern between the middle school and the high school and this new middle school, based on its location, would feed Davies High School," Gandhi said.

In 2018, the school district purchased property south of 76th Street, south of Davies High. Gandhi said it's possible the new middle school would be built on that land, but that hasn't officially been decided.

Gandhi said other projects that could move forward in coming years include an option to set up two classroom pods at Lewis & Clark Elementary to serve students with special needs. He said if that plan moves forward, the new classroom space might open in spring 2022.