Williston’s population has grown by 65 percent since 2010, and although there was a 3 percent drop between 2015 and 2016, birth rates and student enrollment will test the city’s capacity in coming years.
Williston’s population sits at 34,337 according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Records show Williams County’s population rose 53 percent between 2010 and 2016, and fellow oil impacted McKenzie County is up by 98 percent.
The population numbers have been maintained largely by young families charmed with small town living and determined to ride out commodity driven cycles.
“The things that we’ve done for the city, these quality of life enhancements, have really improved this area,” Mayor Howard Klug said, listing a bevy of reasons from education, housing prices and employment opportunities. “The overall enthusiasm has improved in my opinion.”
Williston’s transition from a population of transient workers to a family-oriented town is reflected in the births. In 2010, CHI St. Alexius Health Williston Medical Center documented 478 newborns and the hospital reported 883 births in 2015.
The sharp increase in newborns slowed in 2016 to 843 babies born, but it has still posed new considerations for area schools.
Student enrollment was an immediate indicator of the changing dynamics in Williston.
Williston Public School District 1 enrolled 2,275 students for the 2009-10 school year, according to the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction’s Enrollment Reports, and was required to reopen McVay Elementary, which had previously been closed due to lack of enrollment.
The school district completed a new $70 million high school in 2016 to handle the growing student population. By the 2016-17 school year, the school district enrolled 3,780 students — a 60 percent increase from 2009-10 — according to Peter Frankman, communications specialist for the district.
The former high school was converted into the Bakken Elementary, which serves the fifth and sixth-grade students. Even as the school reformatted itself to accommodate the growing student demands, the birth rate has sparked conversation about the need for a new elementary school to afford room for the impending surge of future kindergarteners.
McKenzie, Divide, and Richland counties accounted for 543 births in 2011 at CHI St. Alexius Medical Center, and Williston enrolled 316 new kindergarteners five years later, for the 2015-16 school year. Williston’s rural district, New Public School District 8, added an additional 51 kindergarteners.
“We do need a plan for a new elementary school building, one that will make the most geographic and monetary sense,” District 1 Superintendent Michael Campbell said last July. “Some of the buildings are outdated for education. We need to start collecting data and planning.”
Even with the drop from 2015 to 2016, when 1,050 people left, according to Census figures, there are about 22,000 more residents than recorded in the 2000 Census and about 20,000 more than the 2010 Census.
“I think when you look around Williston, it’s a big change from 4 or 5 years ago,” Klug said.