Belfield School held its first public forum on potential plans to build a $15 million school to replace the current 80-plus year old structure.

"It's something that has been in the plans for some time. We've been trying to find a more feasible way to build a school that's going to be beneficial for our students and cost-effective for our taxpayers," said Superintendent Daren Kurle.

Kristin Peterson, senior planner for Short Elliot Hendrickson Inc., a company out of St. Paul, Minn., that was tasked with gathering data, talked community members through the preliminary plans.

She mentioned the school conditions, which she referred to as "fatal flaws." They included an antiquated heating system replacement, roof in need of replacement, crumbling foundations and poor air quality. Members of the community were invited on a tour of the school afterwards to see the conditions for themselves.

A new school would eliminate the maintenance costs, increase safety and give the school room for its student population to grow.

The new school would be built to hold 325 students in 58,500 square feet of space. The team looked at the cost per square foot of nearby schools in Dickinson and Richardton and came up with an estimate of $240 per square foot, bringing construction costs to $14 million. The remaining amount, which includes design, construction and contingencies, they estimated to be $1.4 million.

To lessen the cost on the taxpayer, they allotted for $1.95 million for the sale of the current property and are seeking $3.4 million in corporate contributions. They also factored in a $1.2 million carryover from the district's building fund.

The group hopes to finance the remaining $8.85 million via U.S. Department of Agriculture loan with a 40-year term. The current interest rate is 2.75%, but that could change by the time they're ready to proceed with the project. At those numbers, the district would be responsible for making a $365,040 payment each year.

The school's building fund has a budget of $208,000 per year, which would go towards the new school, leaving approximately $160,000 per year to cover.

Such an amount would cost the taxpayers of Belfield an approximate increase of $80 per year per $100,000 property value.

The team plans to pursue grants to help offset the cost to taxpayers, including the USDA Community Development Grant and Energy and Infrastructure Impact Grants.

Using an app called Mentimeter, they asked those in attendance after the presentation if they would support a new school. The majority answered "yes." They also asked for community comments and questions. The consulting firm plans to create a report of the data from this presentation. The Press will report on the results as they become available.