The South Heart School, which serves students ranging from preschool through high school, could begin a considerable expansion as early as this summer.

The school will hold a public meeting Jan. 20 in an attempt to take the pulse of the community regarding a proposed $11 million addition and remodeling project that would give the school additional space for its agriculture and vocational programs and replace its oldest building, which has just entered its 100th year of use.

South Heart School Board President Jesse Olson said the purpose of the meeting is to be “as forthcoming and obvious as we can be” and share expansion concepts for the school.

“What are we lacking, and what does a school need to look like to fit today’s demographic?” Olson asked. “The intent is to give an idea to the public what these ideas may look like and to see if we have enough support at a later date to look for a referendum if it’s acceptable to the public.”

South Heart School Superintendent Calvin Dean said the board hopes to set a bond referendum vote for late March and, if that vote is successful, phase one could begin sometime this summer.

Based on the school’s taxable valuation and the $11 million cost estimate, Dean said the projected impact on South Heart taxpayers would be around 35 mills, or a tax increase of $34 for every $1,000 of taxable property valuation.

The expansion project first came into consideration about a year ago, Dean said, when the oil economy was more robust and the district was awash with new students.

“The enrollment was growing rapidly in South Heart, like every district in western North Dakota,” he said.

In addition to the growth in South Heart itself, Dean added, westward expansion of Dickinson pushed development closer to the district boundary between the Dickinson Public School and the South Heart School districts.

Dean said such growth, while stalled by the oil development slowdown, could bring even more students to South Heart.

He added that enrollment at the school is still increasing despite the dampened economic climate and that expanding the facilities now in a down period could prevent greater cost and congestion in the future.

“Obviously construction costs have been extremely high in western North Dakota, but the thing we’ve been hearing is that if there’s ever time to do a project, now’s it,” he said. “We’re hoping we’ve hit a low spot in the oil boom where we could do things more competitively. When things come back, we can plan ahead and be ready prior to all that enrollment growth that could potentially happen in the future.”

The current master plan for the future school has been estimated at $11 million by JLG Architects, a Dickinson firm which has been working with the district throughout the planning process.

That plan would break the project into a two-phase buildout that would begin with adding on to the elementary school wing on the north side of the current facility, which would effectively replace the campus’ 1916 building.

Phase one would also include an expansion of the school’s south end to house the vocational and agriculture department and provide additional space for high school classrooms.

South Heart High School senior Caden Tuhy, who describes himself as “involved with pretty much every activity or group” at the school, said the current lack of space for vocational programs is a “real issue.”

Tuhy said that despite students being used to making do with what they have, it can get “cramped,” especially when larger projects are at hand.

“Even in the winter months, we’re running around outside working on projects,” Tuhy said with a laugh. “It’d just be nice to get a little larger area to work on, get more organized where you don’t have welders right beside wood projects.”

As work progresses into phase two, Dean said, the 100-year-old building that contains the school kitchen and elementary-level classes would be torn down and replaced with new classrooms and a new concessions and lobby entrance to reroute event traffic into the school.

The phase two concept would also include a considerable increase in parking spaces, Dean said.

While Tuhy had only just been made aware of an outline for the expansion concepts, he responded enthusiastically to the idea.

“It sounds like it’d be awesome,” he said. “We’re facing a growing population -- it’s slowed down some, but it’s still growing. The layout with so much more room just sounds awesome, it’s a real great setup.”

The school expansion meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 20, at the South Heart School gymnasium. Attendants are encouraged to bring their 2015 tax statements to the meeting to calculate estimated tax increases if the bond referendum is approved.