It would cost Williston Public School District No. 1 about the same amount to build a new school that would add space for 600 students as it would to rebuild a school, a decision that would add space for about 300 new students.

The school board for District 1 went over options for new schools at a special meeting Wednesday night. It would cost between $30 million and $32 million to build a new school that would handle 600 students. Rebuilding Wilkinson, a move that would add 300 seats, would cost about $30 million.

The district is considering several options, ranging from building one school to building one new school and rebuilding another to building two new schools. Those options would cost between $30 and $64 million, according to figures the board presented Monday evening.

“We want to show you what the value is for your money,” board President Joanna Baltes said to an audience of a few dozen people Monday evening.

One problem with building just one new elementary school is that if it opened in 2020, it would already be at or possibly even over capacity, Baltes said. Building one school and rebuilding Wilkinson would give the district a little bit more breathing room, and building two new schools could give the district more room to grow, with about 100 extra spaces in both new schools.

Another possibility is adding 400 seats to Williston High School, a move that would cost about $15 million and take pressure off the middle schools.

“These are the options that are going to meet our needs right now,” Baltes said.

One reason that schools are so expensive is the needs of 21st century education. Board member Dr. Theresa Hegge said the district needs to be up-to-date with how it educates students, but that doesn’t mean building in luxuries.

“Participating in 21st century education is not a luxury anymore,” she said. “We have to do that.”

One way that is reflected in school design is the addition of more flexible and common spaces, Baltes said.

The board also spoke about funding for the new schools. Under current law, the only option for building a new school is through a property tax levy. The district also wants to explore other options, including having the state OK a sales and use tax or getting private donations, but that won’t happen in time to meet the district’s most immediate needs, Baltes said.

As of Monday, which was a little more than one week before the first day of school, there are 4,554 students enrolled for the 2018-19 school year. That’s up from about 4,100 at the end of the 2017-18 school year.

The board is scheduled to meet again next week and vote on whether to put a bond referendum on the November General Election ballot. The deadline for getting a referendum on the ballot is Aug. 22.


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