How can West Fargo's oldest elementary school keep up with the new?

Built in 1952, South Elementary's age and design make for difficult renovations as the city continues to deal with consistent increases in enrollment.

South Elementary opens for another school day on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023.
David Samson/The Forum

WEST FARGO — New school buildings and renovations to current facilities have been apart of West Fargo School District's game plan to meet the consistent growth in enrollment, but what to do with the district's oldest elementary school remains a challenge.

As the West Fargo Long Range Facilities Planning Committee plans for future needs and additional buildings, the question of how to keep South Elementary School updated has yet to be answered.

"South is a unicorn. It's one of our oldest and most loved buildings," said Rachael Agre, assistant elementary school superintendent.

The school's age, size and location, coupled with a distinct layout due to previous additions and changes over the years make any future renovations difficult and no more equitable to newer schools.

Features like special education learning spaces, or study rooms for students having behavioral issues would be more difficult to add on.


The school, located at 117 6th Ave. W., was built in 1952, according to Principal Jody Sjolin-Nelson. The building received four separate additions in 1956, 1961, 1983 and 2003, as well as renovations in 2019, which were planned and paid for by the district's 2018 bond referendum.

Sjolin-Nelson said the school is now sort of "land-locked" and has taken on a U-shape after renovations and additions over the years.

"It makes the flow kinda different," she said.

The actual size of the classrooms at South is one of the major differences between the other schools. With smaller rooms, the school has had to get creative when trying to add small group spaces, which have become invaluable to staff at other schools equipped with such spaces.

Many newer schools also have unisex bathrooms, which South does not. The school would also likely have to update its entire locker system, which is no longer manufactured. Replacements parts have been fabricated by volunteers and school officials as needed.

Closing the school is not an option at this time, said business manager Levi Bachmeier, as the district needs the school to keep up enrollment.

"It is imperative that no one mistakenly believes its closure is being considered at this time," Bachmeier said. "We very clearly need South in the Packer feeder system."

Bachmeier estimated that a deferred maintenance package, or one that makes minimal updates and changes to the school could cost about $2 million to $4 million. A middle ground plan for renovations with an expansion could cost $5 million to $10 million, while a major renovation of the building, including increasing classroom size could cost about $17 million to $21 million.


At the Long Range Facilities Planning Committee's last meeting, an exit survey showed members were divided about how to proceed with South Elementary.

Some members want to ensure the building can stay open long term, while others wanted more short-term plans with consideration again.

The committee will meet again in February, with plans to report to the West Fargo School Board in March on potential recommendations for new and current facilities.

Readers can reach reporter Wendy Reuer at or 701-241-5530 . Follow her on Twitter @ForumWendy .

As the West Fargo editor, Wendy Reuer covers all things West Fargo for The Forum and oversees the production of the weekly Pioneer.
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