With the failure of two bond proposals earlier this year, the school board for Williston Public School District No. 1 has been faced with how to deal with schools that are overcrowded at nearly every level.
Without the money from the bond, the district has to rely on its building fund, which has about $11.4 million, board President Joanna Baltes told the Williston Herald.
“We wanted to make sure we were making an impact kindergarten through 12th grade,” she said.
Last month, the board OK’d moving forward with renovations to the commons area of Williston High School. Part of the $3.1 million project will be paid for by a $1.3 million energy impact, and the rest will come from the building fund.
The district is freeing up space at the elementary level, too. Because all students in grades kindergarten through ninth will have their own Chromebook — a lightweight, inexpensive laptop that uses software made by Google — there’s no longer a need for computer labs.
That’s going to allow the district to add more classes of kindergarten, first and second graders, the largest group of students in the district.
That leaves grades five through eight, which are in Bakken Elementary and Williston Middle School. The two schools share a site on West Highland Drive.
The schools are rapidly running out of room. For the 2019-2020 school year, the district is adding a seventh grade class, and another eighth grade class is likely to be needed for the 2020-21 school year.
There is another building the district owns, though, the old Hagan pool building, located across the street from Bakken Elementary and Williston Middle School. It’s being used for storage right now.
One plan the board is considering is gutting the pool building and turning it into what Baltes called an Innovation Academy.
Such a school would take 100 students from each grade at Bakken Elementary and WMS, which would help to alleviate overcrowding. It would also help create a showcase for something the district has been working on — personalized learning.
The goal is that students in the district will be able to learn at their own pace. That isn’t going to be limited to one special school, but the Innovation Academy idea comes from a pilot program started during the 2018-19 school year with a fifth-grade teacher.
For the coming school year, sixth grade is going to be added, and after that it will grow to include seventh and then finally eighth.
The estimated cost of the project is $12 million, which includes completely gutting the pool building and adding a second floor.
“We thought that would be something we could pull off,” Baltes said.
The students would have their core classes in the new building, while electives and special classes like art and physical education would be in Bakken Elementary or WMS.
Final question was how to pay for it. With other projects already using some building fund money, there isn’t enough in reserve to pay for it outright.
The board is going to work with the Coyote Foundation to raise money. Baltes said that way donations to the district would be tax-deductible, because the Coyote Foundation is a 501©3 nonprofit.
Fundraising pitches are likely to start later in July, and by October, Baltes hopes the board will be able to sign off on a plan to renovate the Hagan pool building. If all goes according to plan, the new building would open for the 2020-21 school year.
Between now and then, the board will have to determine how best to ask for money. Baltes said naming rights for the new building would be on the table.
“We need the financial support from industry and the community,” she said.