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DPS mulls $67M in building projects

Dickinson Public Schools should expect to spend more than $67 million in building projects to meet rapid growth, an engineer consultant told board members Monday.

Christopher Gibbs of DLR Group presented a future planning report to the board that included building a middle school for grades 6 through 8 and turning Prairie Rose Elementary School into a four-section school. The additions would add space for approximately 750 students.

“We understand that is an awful lot of money,” Gibbs said. “That is based on our reading from the community based on their tax tolerance … and what we believe is meeting the most immediate needs of Dickinson Public Schools.”

The western North Dakota energy boom has caused enrollment to increase over the past several years, officials said. More than 450 students attend class at Hagen Middle School. It has room for 500 but parking space has become an issue, Gibbs said. The building is also outdated.

The district’s enrollment increased in March by 37 students, Superintendent Doug Sullivan added.

“That just doesn’t happen,” he said. “The families are continuing to arrive. There is a very real level of urgency that this board understands and needs to convey to the community.”

Gibbs said the Hagen building should be repurposed, but did not have a suggestion for it.

“We would not recommend, at this point, for the district to bring the wrecking ball to it,” Gibbs said. “There are some challenges, but it is too much of an asset to walk away from.”

The plans also include turning Berg Elementary School, which serves sixth-graders, into a K-5 facility.

The school board has worked with DLR since September and has held several public workshops with the community. They have asked residents what expansions the district needs and how much they would be willing to spend if a bond came to a public vote.

The project is expected to take three years to complete from design to finish, Gibbs said. If the school board wants the projects finished by fall 2017 — the earliest the projects could be completed — it would have to hold a bond vote this fall.

The general consensus board member Tanya Rude has heard from residents is that the city needs a new high school, posing the question why not build one now.

There were suggestions to build a new high school and turn the current one into a middle school, but there are multiple additions the board would have to make to the high school to make it suitable for middle school students, Gibbs said.

“Based on the information that we have heard from the staff and the leadership teams, and based on our understanding in working with school systems around the country, there are enormous changes coming with high schools,” Gibbs said. “What a high school may look like in five or seven years may look very, very different from what you may design if you decide to build right now.”

Gibbs added: “I think this is the most impactful plan.”

There is a sense of urgency in getting these projects finished because of the rapid growth, Superintendent Doug Sullivan said. The fact that the buildings were built around the same time and need upgrades makes it more pressing, Gibbs said.

“It’s all hitting all these levels at the same time,” Gibbs said. “The needs aren’t going away, and I think it is safe to say that everyone in this community understands that time is money.”

April Baumgarten
April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, as the news editor. She works with a team of talented journalists and editors, who strive to give the Grand Forks area the quality news readers deserve to know. Baumgarten grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family continues to raise registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college,  she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as the Dickinson city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.