WATFORD CITY -- The main hallway of the new Watford City High School was packed to the brim surrounding the podium in the center, where Gov. Jack Dalrymple congratulated the Oil Patch boomtown on its new high school Monday and presented them with a North Dakota flag that had flown over the state capitol.
"Wow, this place is unbelievable," Dalrymple said. "... This community has been part of American history, really, the last 10 years. The fastest-growing community in the United States of America for several years in a row now. What an incredible challenge."
The high school celebrated its grand opening, for which parents and students alike attended in droves despite the President’s Day holiday.
The event also called for compliments from other distinguished guests, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Kirsten Baesler, state superintendent of schools.
"I think it just epitomizes what people can do when they get together and want to make something great happen," Hoeven said.
Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford thanked the community for supporting the school through a bond referendum approved by 90 percent of voters.
"A 90 percent ‘yes’ vote is just unheard of," Sanford said. "People outside of here can't believe we got 90 percent of people to vote for anything, let alone to raise their property taxes to build a new school."
The $50 million project follows 16 months of construction, beginning in October 2014. At 167,000 square feet and comprising of two storeys and a basement, it is built to hold just over 800 students.
Classes begin in the new building today.
McKenzie County School Superintendent Steve Holen explained that the decision to build a new school began around two-and-a-half years ago, when the city received a demographic study that showed an expanding population.
Watford City has grown from around 1,600 people at the start of the decade to around 7,000 today, all because of the Bakken shale oil boom. Watford City is the seat and economic hub of McKenzie County, the largest oil-producing county in North Dakota.
"Shortly after, the (school) board started looking at options and planning … and a new high school came out of that planning," he said.
Ground was broken for the school in July 2014. Holen said construction proceeded without any major hang-ups, adding that he and his colleagues are "pretty proud of that."
He said the building was planned accordingly so that it can be added onto if a growth in enrollment requires such in the future.
"We built it so that we could do multiple configurations and adapt if we have more to build," Holen said.
Many of the school’s sections are spacious in design, such as the hallways, cafeteria, library and stand-alone locker spaces. There are even open lounges on each floor where students can take a rest between classes.
"The whole place is just amazing," said high school senior Krystal Wold. "All the classrooms are really nice. They're a lot bigger. All of the windows are a great feature of this place."
As high school Principal Terry Vanderpan put it, there is a "college-type atmosphere" about the place.
"It’s as nice a building as I’ve ever been in," he said.
Vanderpan said it was somewhat awkward moving from the old high school, describing how equipment was being moved while classes were being held.
However, he said it came together well, with the students even helping some where they could. He said it proved a good example of working together.
Vanderpan also praised Holen for overseeing the project through to its completion.
"We’re excited for what the future holds for our kids," he said.
Wernette is a reporter for The Press and Dalrymple is a reporter for Forum News Service in Williston. Contact Wernette at 701-456-1211.