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West Fargo voters may see big bond plan

Members of a West Fargo facilities planning group recommended Wednesday that the school board spend $72.5 million to $83.5 million to handle expected enrollment growth to 2015 and beyond.

Members of a West Fargo facilities planning group recommended Wednesday that the school board spend $72.5 million to $83.5 million to handle expected enrollment growth to 2015 and beyond.

The Long Range Facility Planning Task Force also was heavily in favor of creating two high schools, each with grades 9-12, instead of creating a single high school split between two buildings.

Eighty-nine percent of the group voted for the two building plans, both of which call for building a 1,200-student middle school and turning the current Sheyenne Middle School into a 1,500-student high school.

The plan that included one new 600-student elementary school cost $72.5 million and garnered 46 percent support. The more expensive plan calls for building two 600-student elementary schools, and drew 43 percent support.

A $62 million option, which would build one 600-student elementary, a 900-student middle school, and turn Sheyenne into a 1,200-student high school, drew 11 percent of the group's votes.


School board President Karen Nitzkorski was surprised by the support for the big building packages.

"I think it's all going to be an education process. We going to need to let people know we really are thinking long-term," Nitzkorski said.

"And if we are thinking long-term, the fiscally sound thing to do would be to spend a little more money right now to get the schools and buildings that we need," Nitzkorski said.

Superintendent David Flowers and Nitzkorski said the school board will get a full report on the facilities task force's recommendations in a late-February board retreat. Neither would hazard a guess on when the school board would decide what to bring to the public for a bond vote.

"We really want to try to do this right this time around. So we really need to take the time to do that," Nitzkorski said.

Eighty-two percent of the task force also voted for creating two 9-12 high schools for the district.

The group debated whether to split high school grades between two schools, but worries about whether younger students would lose out on taking more challenging courses, and the need to still transition to two high schools within a few years, outweighed the pull to keep everyone a Packer.

West Fargo voters rejected two previous building referendums.


School Board member Patti Stedman said the group's recommendations will carry more clout with the public this time around because of the efforts Flowers has made to make the study transparent, and because the group is thinking of the longer term in its plans.

"We're not looking to do three years and have to open up another building," Stedman said. "Which is what our community expects. They don't want a Band-Aid, they want a fix."

Flowers said there's plenty of rationale for buildings at all levels, given the district's expected growth. He said public support will depend on how the information is presented.

Improvements in the economy, which is recovering from a recession, may also help, he said.

Enrollment in the West Fargo School District was 7,178 this fall, including preschoolers. A report by an independent demographer puts the enrollment at 9,206 by 2015-16.

Flowers told the task force that the state demographer recently looked at those figures and agreed they were valid.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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