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Meeting in the middle: Belfield, South Heart schools asks for public input for new facility

“Would you support a 7-12 school between Belfield and South Heart?”

That is one of the questions on a survey Belfield Public Schools sent to residents of its district last week.

“Basically we would like to know if the majority of the people in our district would support something like this,” Superintendent Wade Northrop said. “That’s what we are hoping to find out.”

The school board will host a demographics meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at the high school to take questions and input from the community. The meeting comes after Belfield residents received a letter and short survey asking for input about possible options for a new or remodeled school in the district.

The meeting is required by law and is part of the district’s regular board meeting.

As more and more families come to small North Dakota towns to participate in the biggest oil boom of the state’s history, schools that had declining enrollment a decade ago are experiencing growth — some in record numbers.

Belfield faced declining enrollment until the oil boom hit. Enrollment there has increased from 184 in 2008 to 232 this year, Northrop said. That number fluctuates as students move in and out of the district.

“We are anticipating continued growth for the next several years according to information we are receiving from oil companies and professional engineers and planners,” school officials wrote in the letter. “These are projects that certainly appear to be legitimate.”

The survey also asked if residents would support the following:

V A new K-12 school in Belfield.

V Additions to the existing school facilities.

V A mill levy increase if they supported additions or a new building.

South Heart residents can expect a similar survey to be sent out soon, South Heart Public School Superintendent Riley Mattson said.

“That’s just a question we want to post to the people in our community and South Heart’s going to post to the people in their district, to see if they would support something like that,” Northrop said. “We’re very hopeful that people will fill out that survey. Regardless if they support it or not, we’d like to get their input back.”

The school board has talked about the issue for approximately four months, Northrop said.

“I think all the people in these communities — the majority of them — know that we’ve been talking about this for awhile,” Northrop said.

The majority of the students — 128 of them — are in the elementary grades, Northrop said. Classes have ranged from the low teens to high 20s.

“Our elementary has consistently went up each year. It’s the high school side that has dropped a little bit,” Northrop said.

Older students tend to stay back with friends or family to finish high school and young families bring their children with them.

The building will likely hit capacity at 250 students, Northrop said.

“We’re approaching it,” Northrop said.

Belfield’s school building is approximately 80 years old, but has been well maintained, school board member Delbert Kadrmas said.

“We’ve always talked about school improvement things we could do,” Kadrmas said. “We’ve always been proactive in that respect.”

The building is aging and will need an update, Krebs said.

“A decade ago, we were talking about consolidating with South Heart, but now — well, it’s still an option,” Krebs said. “I guess we have all options on the table.”

Because everything is in the very beginning stages, no costs have been estimated for any of the options, Northrop said.

“That’s something that I could sit down and try to figure out a cost estimate, but until you actually know you’re going to commit to something like this, then we would have to bring in people that could actually bid this stuff out,” Northrop said.

“A guy can always kind of guess or assume,” Northrop said. “A new school is going to be somewhere between $10 million and $25 million.”

The board hasn’t looked at land between South Heart and Belfield, he said, adding “we aren’t quite at that point yet.”

Residents who received the survey are encouraged to attend Thursday’s meeting with questions and fill out the survey so their voice is heard.

“I’m hoping to be all ears,” Krebs said. “I hope there is a big response so we know what direction we can go, if any.”

Press Assistant Editor April Baumgarten contributed to this story.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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