At their March 26 meeting, the West Fargo School Board received the final report from the Long Range Facility Planning Task Force. The task force, which was commissioned by the Board, met five times over the past five months. They were convened in response to projections showing continued growth in the district of 400-500 students per year over at least the next five years. This relentless growth points to the need for additional space, particularly south of Interstate-94. Liberty Middle School, which only opened its doors four years ago, will exceed its capacity in 2018-19. Sheyenne High School will be over capacity by 2020-21. The Task Force's charge was to suggest solutions for the short-term overcrowding and to identify and make recommendations to address the longer-term challenges as well.
The Task Force identified and analyzed pros and cons of a number of on-site and off-site short-term solutions for Liberty Middle School's overcrowding. These solutions may yet need to be considered following 2018-19, but the Board has already approved a short-term solution for
2018-19. A team of 100 eighth-grade students will be housed at Sheyenne High School during 2018-19, freeing up space at Liberty for incoming sixth graders and advancing seventh graders. The Task Force also identified nine potential long-term needs. These were discussed, analyzed in terms of pros and cons and ranked along a couple of different continua.
The Board received a detailed report of the analysis and will likely determine at a subsequent Board meeting or workshop which projects to focus upon in the next bond referendum and when to ask voters for approval to finance the projects.
Following is a prioritized list of the projects and estimated costs in order of task force rank. The Board has been advised that approximately $100 million is the limit before the Board would have to ask voters to increase the sinking and interest mill levy, so only the ranked projects that get us that level are included. Recall that in the last referendum, voters were promised that the levy would not increase, and $98.1 million could be funded. In actuality, since the 2015 referendum was approved, the levy for sinking and interest has declined, from 51.01 mills in 2014-15, to 38.62 mills in 2017-18.
• First, New Middle School to house 600 grade 6-8 students, designed to be expandable to 1,200 if needed in the future; New High School for 800 grade 9-12 students, designed to be expanded to house 1,600 if needed in the future (estimated cost: $82.75 million; cumulative cost: $82.75 million)
• Tied for second, Harwood Addition as growth warrants. The project is divided into two categories: Gymnasium (estimated cost: $2.2 million; cumulative cost: $84.95 million) and Classroom addition (estimated cost: $4.7 million; cumulative cost: $89.65 million)
• Tied for second, Elementary Equity Projects - There is a need to make sure that all elementary schools have dedicated art, music and gifted/talented rooms. Currently, these classrooms have had to be utilized as regular education classrooms at Eastwood, Aurora, Freedom and Independence, which is where this work would focus. (estimated cost: $2.525 million; cumulative cost: $92.175 million)
• Fourth, Additional Security Upgrades to enhance student and staff safety. (estimated cost: $2 million; cumulative cost: $94.175 million)
• Fifth, Horace Expansion to four classrooms per grade level school. Projected housing growth in Horace will require this. (estimated cost: $6.5 million; cumulative cost: $100.675 million)
The other four projects analyzed by the task force, and which the Board could consider only if they are willing to ask voters to increase the sinking and interest levy, include a Level D facility for students with very complex and disruptive behaviors ($7 million); turf for the athletic fields at three high schools ($3 million); an additional elementary school in the far south of the district if housing development and growth continue in the area south of the Deer Creek neighborhood ($16 million); and sharing in the cost with the business community, and in collaboration with North Dakota State College of Science, to build a Career/Workforce Academy similar to the one in Bismarck ($5-15 million).
We are grateful to the 40-member task force for their work. Their input is invaluable to the Board, and will guide and inform both the Board and community members. District patrons and voters should stay tuned for next steps as the Board determines what to ask voters to support and when to schedule the election.