WEST FARGO – A 40-person community task force has five meetings to come up with a plan for facilities that can accommodate the West Fargo School District's expected 60 percent growth during the next 10 years.
The Long Range Facility Planning Committee, which is made up of teachers, principals, parents and community members chosen by Superintendent David Flowers, met for the first time Wednesday night.
The committee will explore ways the district can keep up with student enrollment that is projected to grow by 500 to 600 students each year. The group is charged with presenting a plan to the School Board by Aug. 10.
The district faces overcrowding at the elementary level as early as the 2017-18 school year. To have another elementary school open by 2017, the board needs to open bids in 2016 and have a referendum passed as early as this November.
"[The timeline] is a goal, it's an estimate to manage the work we have to get done," Flowers said. "This kind of process does take time. The paradox is that we don't have a lot of time."
A recent demographic study predicted a third high school will likely be needed within six years. Figures show that West Fargo High School's enrollment could grow by more than 500 students by 2019 and, by 2024, enrollment could nearly double to 2,112 students.
The population of Sheyenne High School is expected to grow by more than 1,300 students by the year 2024.
Flowers said he would not recommend having very large high schools.
"When you have very, very large high schools, you limit opportunities for your kids," Flowers said.
The School Board has asked that the committee study an alternative to building a third high school, such as creating a magnet school. Flowers said splitting schools is a "painful process."
Along with determining if new buildings are needed, the committee is also expected to explore grade-configuration changes for elementary schools, adding an auxiliary gym at West Fargo High School, adding an indoor practice space somewhere, and how to address current ice and pool needs. The committee will also look at the district's current food supplies and transportation plan because much of the population growth is south of Interstate 94, but the buses are all housed on the north side of I-94.
Flowers said the district's youngest students, those attending the kindergarten centers, are riding some of the longest bus rides in the district.
The committee will meet again from 7-9 p.m. June 3, June 24, July 15 and Aug. 5 at West Fargo High School.
The committee is similar to one formed in 2010 prior to the 2011 public vote that allocated $82 million to the school district. The bond referendum helped pay for turning Sheyenne 9th Grade Center into a second high school, as well as construction of Liberty Middle School and Freedom, Independence and Legacy elementary schools. Legacy Elementary will open this fall.