One size doesn't fit all: Why a new DHS could be bigger than its eastern counterparts

The proposed new Dickinson High School will be 365,000 square feet and have a capacity of 1,600 students. Some community members in the district's last community forum posed the question -- why so big? The school is currently 230,000 square feet ...


The proposed new Dickinson High School will be 365,000 square feet and have a capacity of 1,600 students. Some community members in the district's last community forum posed the question - why so big?

The school is currently 230,000 square feet with a capacity of about 1,000 students, and it's overcrowded.

JE Dunn Vice President Marc Mellmer said Dickinson High School lacks some of the community resources schools in other districts have, meaning those features must be built onto the school itself.

The career and technical education portion of the school alone is 70,000 square feet.

"(DHS) needs that large CTE - Career and Tech Center - because Bismarck has a career and tech academy that serves all of the schools in Bismarck and Dickinson does not."


More students will need to attend DHS, which serves as the only high school in town, so the new building's capacity would increase by 600 students.

"The physical size of the school is due to capacity and the fact that Bismarck has three public high schools and two private schools, so that's five total high schools," Mellmer said. "Dickinson has only one public high school, so the capacity needs are much greater in Dickinson."

The gymnasium of the new high school would also increase in size.

"An activities and events space in the gymnasium is going to be between 2,500 and 3000 seats," Mellmer said. "The current gymnasium will handle 1,100, which really affects events like all-school assemblies or graduations."

The high schools in larger cities don't need to have such large gymnasiums, as there are community spaces they can utilize.

"The schools in Bismarck, they can have graduations in the Bismarck Civic Center, and they have event spaces like that that can handle that," he said.

The auditorium will be larger as well, seating more than 800. Mellmer said the current building's auditorium seats only between 350 and 400 students, so it won't hold even half of the student body.

"Typically, a high school auditorium would be set to where you could put two full classes in there, so if you had 1,600 students in your school at full capacity, you could still fit two classes in there at 800 capacity," he said.


What was once a small, cramped cafeteria will become a wide-open commons area with the capability of serving the whole student body.

Mellmer said his team has spoken to students at DHS about the lack of space.

"The kids that we've interviewed say 'I'm a freshman, and it's very intimidating for me. I just try to put my head down and not look at anybody and mind my own business and hope I don't bump into too many people.' It's like, that's what you feel like at school?" he said.

He said students have also told him that they don't wear coats to school because they don't want to wear them from class to class and don't know what to do with them otherwise.

JE Dunn employee Melissa Gjermundson, who herself attended DHS, said, "(Students) were talking about how if somebody tries to use their locker, they end up almost getting yelled at. That was not like how it was when I went there."

Mellmer said they know first-hand the potential problems associated with building a school too small. His company, JE Dunn, built Williston High School. He said a larger bond referendum was initially proposed to the community for school larger than it ended up being, but the referendum failed.

"The community said that's too big and that's too much money, and it failed. After it failed, the district came back to the community with a lesser bond referendum, less money, and smaller capacity, and the community said yes and passed it."

Mellmer said at the time, Williston had 853 students. Construction started within two years for a 1,200 student school. Within that two months, they surpassed 1200 students. Now, JE Dunn is working with Williston on expanding their new school to reach a 1600 student capacity.


"The problem is the cost of construction to add on three years later is exponentially more than it would have been to build it right-sized from day one or with capacity capabilities from day one," he said. "When you try to shrink things down, when you try to be too economical, what happens is when those growth projections do hit, you end up paying for it tenfold later."

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