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Voters in Williston Public School District No. 1 rejected a $77.2 million bond Tuesday by a 59 percent to 41 percent margin.

There were about 2,000 votes cast, including about 400 absentee ballots, according to Peter Frankman, a spokesman for the district.

The unofficial results were 916 votes, or 41.47 percent, in favor of the bond and 1,293 opposed. In order to pass, 60 percent of voters had to approve the bond.

The result means the district will not move ahead with plans to build two new elementary schools and an addition to Williston High School.

In a statement, district superintendent Michael Campbell said he hoped residents would get involved in finding a way to handle the district’s increasing enrollment.

“We encourage all members of the community with ideas on how we best deal with the growing student enrollment to become a part of the process,” Campbell said. “Come to a school board meeting, the next being April 9 at 5:30 p.m.”

Tuesday’s results were unofficial, Campbell said, and won’t become official until Monday, when the district’s school board will meet at 8:30 a.m. to canvass the votes. The additional time allows for absentee ballots that were mailed before Tuesday to arrive.

The majority of votes have been counted already, though, Campbell said.

In his statement, Campbell urged members of the public to get involved in the district. There will be three school board seats up for election in June and the three board members who hold those seats have all announced they won’t be running.

The forms to run for those seats for that are available on the district’s website and are due April 9.

At a public forum Monday about the bond vote, school board President Kimberly Semenko said the board was starting to prepare for the possibility that voters might reject the bond.

“We have already started to take a look at what we’ll do,” Semenko said.

She said district officials had been looking at open buildings and the possibility of using local churches to hold classes, but that those locations might not meet accessibility standards. The district might also use more portable classrooms.

The project was designed to deal with enrollment that has been increasing for more than six years. In 2014, voters approved a bond to build Williston High School, which opened in 2016. The district converted the former high school into Bakken Elementary, which is for fifth and sixth graders. Moving those grades into their own school was a temporary move to relieve pressure at the elementary level, according to district officials.

The bond would have gone toward two new elementary schools, each with a capacity of 600 students. Fifth graders would have moved back to elementary buildings and Bakken Elementary and Williston Middle School would have combined, creating a school for grades six through eight with a capacity of about 1,100.

The plan was to build new schools at the sites of Rickard and Wilkinson elementaries. Those locations were chosen both because the schools are aging and in need of major repairs and because there is enough land for new schools to go up while the current schools remain in use.

The two schools, along with classroom additions at the high school, would add space for about 1,000 students, bringing the district’s total capacity to slightly more than 5,000.

Planning has been going on since before the 2014 bond was approved, board members have said, but the latest round started in earnest about a year ago when the board voted to study the need for new schools.

A series of meetings last spring included presentations about enrollment trends and the state of the district’s elementary schools. With the exception of Hagan Elementary, which was built in the 1980s, the district’s elementary schools were built in the 1950s and 1960s.

School board President Kimberly Semenko explained Monday night at the final public forum before the vote that when Hagan was built, the district used its building fund to pay for construction. That left the district struggling to keep up with maintenance and other upgrades that its elementary schools needed.

Lee Dobrinz from JLG Architects, the company the district has been working with, explained Monday that replacing Rickard and Wilkinson would free up money that would have been used to repair those buildings for work on the other elementaries.

In addition to the official canvass of votes, Monday is also the date scheduled for a long-awaited meeting between District 1 and Williams County Public School District No. 8. That meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Williston ARC, could touch on a range of topics, from consolidating the two districts to transfers of property between them.

 

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