Cost for new school could be too much for Belfield

Last year, Belfield school district had hired Charity in Truth Structured Operations to complete a feasibility study for the construction of a new school. The results of the study were explained to the school board at its January meeting.

Belfield Public School
Kayla Henson / The Dickinson Press

Last year, Belfield school district had hired Charity in Truth Structured Operations to complete a feasibility study for the construction of a new school. The results of the study were explained to the school board at its January meeting.

Through surveys and interviews, Charity in Truth, also known as CV Structured Operations, determined that the community would likely support the project for $5.65 million to $8.35 million, but the district estimates it would need $30 million to $40 million to build a new school.

Tim McCaffrey, a representative from CV Structured Operations, stressed that $5.65 million to $8.35 million was not a concrete number and could change significantly, particularly in the areas of local business and personal contributions, if more definitive plans were provided.

"Anybody who's in business wants to see a plan," he said.

One of the common themes the company identified from the surveys and interviews was the concern over the cost of the school and that the population of Belfield was too small to be able to afford it.


One of the written responses from the survey stated, "Our school district cannot afford a $40M school. ... There is not enough tax base to build and maintain a new school. Land and housing taxes will be too high; they are too high now."

They also expressed concern about a tax increase and a desire for an explanation or formula for calculating their taxes with the proposed mill levy so they could see how the increase would affect them personally.

Many community members proposed renovating the current building to save money.

One resident wrote in the survey, "I think we should invest in the currently owned buildings. Dickinson renovated Berg and it is a viable school facility now."

Belfield Superintendent Wade Northrop said that one of the school's buildings is as old as 80 years. Due to the buildings' ages, a lot of items will need to be replaced, such as the boiler and air exchangers, which are all original to the school.

"We just have so many issues here," he said. "We have underground water problems here. We're not going to get away from that. ... These structures are all getting age on them. ... Part of our foundation for some of these (buildings) are starting to deteriorate."

Northrop said the buildings will be costly to repair.

"If you tear those apart and you rebuild here, it's probably still going to cost you anywhere from $12 million to $16 million or so, and you're still not getting away from the groundwater problems. ... It's all going to take funding to fix all of that," he said. "So what we're trying to determine is, is it worth sticking that kind of money into old buildings?"


CV Structured Operations laid out three paths forward: redistricting and building a new Belfield-based Pre-K-12 school serving Stark and Billings Counties, redistricting and remodeling the current school as a Pre-K-8 school and building a new high school serving Stark and Billings Counties, or using a mill increase to cover the repairs and needs of the current building.

The two paths put forward to build a new school both include redistricting to include Billings County, which many residents surveyed said would be necessary for the district to be able to financially support the project.

"We talked about reorganizing with Billings County last spring and summer a little bit, and they weren't interested in reorganizing at that time," Northrop said.

Without redistricting, Northrop isn't sure if they could build a new school.

"I don't know if there'd be another option out there right now or not," he said. "We're a small district. Our tax valuation isn't that high. Raising the mills to build a new school, in my opinion, at this time is not the right answer."

Northrop said support from the Davis Refinery is a future possibility.

"We have been in contact with them over the past three or four years," he said. "At the time, anyway, they appeared interested in helping build a new school, but until they are actually up and in production, we can't count on that right now."

The school district will meet with the board and likely members of CV Structured Operations again to discuss how to move forward.


In the meantime, the school must deal with its deteriorating facilities.

"We need to start putting money into repairs for this whole building - for all these buildings here," Northrop said.

He's hoping to get a more detailed analysis of the repairs needed and estimates on some of these repairs next month.

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