The Dickinson School Board approved the purchase of the Halliburton complex during a special meeting Thursday night, with a vote of 3 to 1, the only dissenting vote coming from David Wilkie. Board member Kim Schwartz was not present at the meeting.

"It's pretty exciting," said Assistant Superintendent Keith Harris about the decision. "As Representative Lefor and Senator Wardner said, we think that this will be a great thing not only for our Dickinson Public Schools students but all of our students in the area. It's a great thing for our community."

The complex will be used to house the school district's career and technical education programs.

Purchasing, operating expenses

The purchase price for the property is $6 million, and the preliminary estimate for renovations to convert the complex's buildings from industrial to educational use is $8 million.

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President Brent Seaks asked the district about utility estimates for the property.

"It was used as an oil industry facility rather than a school, so it's a little challenging to compare apples to apples of expenses," said Superintendent Shon Hocker.

Assistant Superintendent Keith Harris went over the data they had gathered.

"If you look at the four-year average for the last four years - so that includes time that it was in production as well as some down time - it averaged about $250,000 to $300,000 a year for utility costs," Harris said.

The costs for the school district to operate the facilities would likely be less than the cost for Halliburton.

Board Member Jason Rodakowski asked about the total operating costs, including maintenance.

"In all honesty, I think operating costs are going to be in that $150,000 to $200,000 (range), and that includes mowing lawns, pushing snow, those kinds of things," Harris said.

That cost range also includes an estimate on utilities, but does not include the cost of insurance for the property, for which the district does not yet have an estimate.

Harris said they could save operational costs if they didn't use all of the buildings on site.

"One of the nice things about the property is each of those buildings are independent buildings, and the way that they're built, you can mothball a building ... and it would cost next to nothing for utilities," Harris said.

Environmental concerns

Harris addressed the board about any safety and environmental issues of the property.

"We did that due diligence environmentally," he said. While there's never any guarantees, I feel pretty comfortable ... that we're not buying something that would cost the district liability ... and have not been able to identify anything that would prevent us from transitioning that site from its current use to an educational facility."

Harris said they spoke with the construction supervisor in charge of construction on the property about what was above and below the ground.

The district also received a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment report which they read and shared with the district's attorney, the City of Dickinson and the Department of Environmental Quality in North Dakota.

"We did receive an assurance from Halliburton that either today or Monday, the cleanup of all debris, all barrels, all containers, will be complete. The grounds will be clean," Harris said.

There is an oil through line underneath the concrete that did not service the property.

The district also had the property checked for asbestos, and Harris said the report came back clean.

Reducing costs of a new high school

Hocker said the purchase of the complex would allow the district to shave off millions on the cost of a new high school.

"We have received some preliminary estimations that simply removing the CTE function of the existing high school plan would reduce the cost of that initial bond by at least $20 million," he said.

Because the Halliburton property is so large - about 40 acres - there's a possibility that it could serve other needs for the district, as well.

"Maybe we don't need to be looking at a 1,600-student new school," Hocker said. "Maybe we're looking at a 1,200-student new school because we also have the campus of Halliburton we could utilize for some of our academy ... and basically create another junior campus, kind of like the Minot model."

Look for a follow-up article on Tuesday in which we detail potential funding mechanisms suggested by State Sen. Rich Wardner and State Rep. Mike Lefor.