One of the reasons Williston Public School District No. 1 is looking to build or renovate elementary schools is the age of the district’s elementary buildings.
Of the six elementary schools — five of which have students in kindergarten through fourth grade and one of which has students in fifth and sixth grade — only one is less than 50 years old.
Hagan Elementary was built in 1983 and is both the newest and largest of the district’s elementary schools. It’s capacity is 450 students, and last year it had 494 students.
It’s one of four elementary schools that were over capacity last year. Lewis and Clark’s capacity is 250 students, but it had 261. McVay’s is 325, but it had 412 and Wilkinson’s is 230, but it had 265.
Bakken Elementary, which handles fifth and sixth graders, has a capacity of 700 students with an enrollment of 629, and Rickard’s capacity is 325, with an enrollment of 263.
Including modular classrooms, the district has the capacity for 3,880 students. Last year’s enrollment was about 4,100, and the latest projections have the enrollment for the 2018-19 school year at around 4,500.
The district’s two newest schools — Williston Middle School and Williston High School — are both nearly at or over capacity, as well. WMS, which opened in 2003, has a capacity of 600 and last year’s enrollment was 729. WHS, which opened in 2016, was built to handle 1,200 students and had an enrollment of 1,186.
Even as the district struggles to find space for the new students, there are issues with nearly every building that need to be addressed.
At a meeting Monday, District 1 school board member Dr. Theresa Hegge made the point that functionality is important.
“It’s not just, ‘Oh, our facilities are old,’” she said. “It’s, ‘What can they do?’”
Many of the schools have similar issues. All six of the district’s elementary schools have at least some problems with ADA compliance, whether that’s access to restrooms or access to the building itself.
All of the elementaries except Hagan have asbestos, and many have issues with HVAC equipment, fire alarm and sprinkler systems and site security.
One point of contention during the March bond referendum, where the district sought $76 million to build two new elementary schools and an addition to WHS, was the fact WHS opened in 2016 and is already nearly at capacity.
Ralph Ranovitch, one of the members of the public who was at the meeting, said that probably contributed to the referendum’s failure.
“People really didn’t want to give you any more money for the high school,” he said.
During an online survey by the district, others brought up a similar point.
“Participants suggested that there is a sense of distrust in the process after a new high school was built and which couldn’t accommodate enough students,” district superintendent Jeffrey Thake wrote in his summary of the online survey results.
One of the reasons the school was built at that size was because that was the largest bond the district could get approved by voters, board members said.
Ranovitch said he hoped any plan would look farther into the future.
“Project past what you need right now,” he said.
District 1 isn’t alone in facing enrollment growth and needing new facilities. But, school board President Joanna Baltes said, there are bigger problems here than elsewhere.
“We probably have the most acute issues because we’re only 16 square miles,” she said.
The school board is holding another meeting at 5:30 p.m. at Bakken Elementary on Monday to discuss a preliminary plan, and will meet again on Aug. 20 to finalize an amount for a a bond referendum. To be on the November General Election ballot, the board has to approve a referendum by Aug. 22.