Belfield shows support for school upgrade: BPS pulls in almost 100 comment cards on project
By Katherine Lymn
That’s based on about 100 responses returned from about 900 sent out, Northrop said. The postcard asked whether residents would support various plans, from a merged grades 7-12 school between Belfield and South Heart to a new K-12 school within Belfield city limits, or additions to existing facilities.
So far, 70 to 75 percent favored some sort of upgrade.
“If you total all the yes votes up it was overwhelming in favor of doing something,” Northrop said.
Because of oil activity in the area, the school district is seeing growth, mostly for elementary-aged students because when families move here for work, older students are more likely to stay at their old schools to finish their education, Northrop said. And the growth will continue — a rail terminal between South Heart and Belfield is in the works, as is a large multi-use development for northwest of the Highway 85 and Interstate 94 intersection.
The age of the buildings — the oldest was built in the 1930s — is also a problem for maintenance and energy efficiency.
“We just have a lot of issues right now here,” Northrop said. “It’s getting tougher and tougher to work on some of these areas.”
Though the topic of discussion was a big one, the meeting happens every year to update the community on where the district is headed with planning.
The school district is projecting K-12 enrollment to grow from 229 currently to 295 five years from now, according to a handout at the meeting. K-6 enrollment specifically is projected to increase from 126 students to 161 in five years.
Northrop said the projections are still in flux because even at this time of the school year, students come and go.
“We still have students enrolling at this time of year and we still have students dropping out,” he said. “It’s [a] you gain two students, you lose two students kind of thing.”
Along with growth, reconfiguring of existing facilities takes away space, Northrop said.
When the school made two rooms into technology rooms, for example, it lost two classrooms.
‘We need to know’
Asked about money saved up for building, Northrop said the school currently has a little over $1 million saved along with a building fund with $500,000.
The estimated cost for a massive upgrade of existing facilities is $10 to $12 million. To start entirely over at a new site, the cost is estimated at $22 million.
Northrop said repeatedly that whatever plan is chosen, the hardest task will be funding.
“The most important thing, and I think the hardest thing, is just finding the funding to pay for this,” he said, saying a mill increase would help but not cover all the costs.
“It’s gonna be difficult, let’s put it that way — it might be two or three years down the road when we can figure out how to do this.”
He also partly blamed the Legislature for the 75-25 split of oil tax revenue between the state and political subdivisions, a problem cited by many western North Dakota school districts and local governments struggling with rapid growth right now.
Constituents brought up concerns about how a merger or new school would affect school operations.
Were there to be a merger at the proposed site about 4 miles east of Belfield, Kathy Krebs asked about truck traffic on old Highway 10, a common route between Belfield and South Heart.
Northrop responded that that would create the need for new on- and off-ramps from the interstate — and added that’s not the only sort of infrastructure that would be needed if the school was built in an area that’s relatively empty now.
“There would have to be on- and off-ramps added to that, I think it’d be mandatory,” he said,
“otherwise all our kids would be traveling on old Highway 10 and with the projected truck traffic we wouldn’t want that either.”
There’s also a lack of city services there like police and fire departments, he said.
“So there are a lot of things you’d have to look at that you’d have to plan for but we’ve taken into consideration all those issues,” Northrop said.
The school has hired Schutz Foss Architects to plan designs for a new school, and a representative from the firm presented schedules at the board meeting that followed the input session.
South Heart School Superintendent Riley Mattson said in an interview Thursday that his district will send out its own letters next week to see how the community feels.
“They’re a couple weeks ahead of us,” Mattson said of Belfield.
The South Heart letters will also gauge the community’s interest in going it alone or merging with Belfield, he said.
A merger, Northrop said, would likely bring more classrooms and therefore more options for curriculum and electives
Northrop said he’s hoping to receive more postcards returned with the community’s opinion, and was grateful for those that attended the meeting to listen and voice their thoughts.
“Whether you’re for or against we need to know,” he said. “We need your help, because you’re the people that are gonna help pay for this.”