‘We could do better:' Mott-Regent hopes to build new school; issue to go to bond election later this year
MOTT — If you would have asked Bill Gion about building a new school when he was first elected to the Mott-Regent School Board 14 years ago, he probably would have thought you were crazy.
Now, the board is now preparing for a bond election to do just that.
A decade ago, schools in small towns in western North Dakota faced declining enrollment. Buildings were closing and schools, like Mott and Regent, consolidated as student bodies shrank. But growth in the Bakken Oil Patch is leading to growth all over the state, including in small towns like Mott.
Mott’s elementary school building was built in 1929, the high school was constructed in 1935 and the latest major expansion was an update in 1964, Superintendent Myron Schweitzer said.
“We decided maybe it’s time we look at doing a complete remodel or maybe look at a new addition or completely brand new school site,” Schweitzer said.
A new school is expected to take 18 months from groundbreaking to the first day of class, Schweitzer said. No plans can move forward without a bond election, as a new school would carry up to a $14.9 million price tag, Schweitzer said.
“That window isn’t so bad because we know we’re not going to do anything this spring,” Schweitzer said.
The board plans on setting the election date at its meeting Tuesday, said Gion, who is the chair of the school board.
“In the end, it’s going to be the patrons of our school district that either approve or disapprove of the proposal,” Gion said. “It’s our goal to bring the best proposal in front of them, because, quite frankly, this school isn’t a want. It’s a need.”
In an effort to save on building costs, the school district is working with the North Dakota National Guard to use the dirt work as an innovative readiness training, Schweitzer said. The National Guard’s 1/816 Engineer Company is based in Mott.
“We would be responsible for providing them with a field to run their equipment and a place for them to stay,” Schweitzer said. “With the armory in town, that’s just not a problem.”
Though the school has been updated throughout the years, upgrades to support a modern security system, become fully compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act building standards, and add amenities such as a weight room would cost millions of dollars.
“It’s just gotten to the point where, how much money do you want to continue to put in to an older structure?” Schweitzer said.
After the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in December 2012. the Mott-Regent School board looked into adding a better security system, Gion said.
“You never think those kinds of things can happen here, but they could,” Gion said. “We had started by having somebody come in and take a look at our school from a security standpoint, and it became very apparent that we had — we were looking at major dollars to try to do something.”
From there, Gion said, the board commissioned a feasibility study to look at the three options in front of them — updates, a remodel or a new school.
Because each schools building is older, they aren’t set up for modern education, Schweitzer said.
“They weren’t designed for computers, or Promethean boards or any of that kind of stuff,” Schweitzer said.
In his first 10 years on the school board, Gion wouldn’t have imagined a new school to ever be in the works.
“We were going through declining enrollments. It was a tough time to be on the board,” Gion said. “You were cutting staff and losing students. We wound up closing the facility in Regent. There was a lot of tough decisions that were made along the way.”
Because the school still has a few years of use left in it, building a new school at a new location will not interrupt classes the way a remodel or building on the same site would, Gion said.
“It’s not saying the building is going to fall apart if this bond fails. We’re not saying that,” Schweitzer said. “But we know we could do better.”
Since the oil boom began four years ago, things in Mott have been picking up as people want to live near the Bakken, but not in it.
Land has been donated by the city for a new building to house all grades and would situate the school closer to the football field on the east side of town, Schweitzer said.
“If we would build out at the fairgrounds, basically they could be within walking distance,” Schweitzer said of the football team. “Right now, we bus the students out or the coaches take them out.”
A new gym would also be in the works at the new school, Schweitzer said.
The gym at Mott-Regent Schools only has seating on one side, and the court isn’t regulation size for basketball and volleyball. The Wildfire teams have played their home games at the Mott National Guard Armory on the opposite end of town.
Students from all over western North Dakota gathered at the Mott-Regent School for a speech meet on Feb. 28. Teams had a home base in the gymnasium, but students had to find their way through the school’s two buildings — connected with a tunnel — to compete in their events.
Students from Bowman — Andrea Richard, Michaela Germann and Parker Krebsbach — said they got a little lost at times.
Junior Allison Gion, Bill’s daughter, is excited about the idea of a new school — especially a new gym — even though she will graduate the same spring groundbreaking will most likely occur.
The Armory would still be used, most likely as a back-up gym for games and practice, Schweitzer said. The school would most likely take over maintenance of the Mott Park Board’s softball diamonds in exchange for their use for physical education.
In addition to upgraded facilities for the students, Gion hopes the school will be able to be a community asset as well.
“I know there’s a lot of elderly people who want to walk during the colder weather. They could come to the school and walk after the school’s closed,” Gion said, adding other parts of the school — like the library — could be open to the public after-hours as well.
“We’re pretty excited about that element of it because I think there’s a lot of people in our communities that want that kind of opportunity.”