Williston Public School District No. 1 is asking for help from the state to ease overcrowding at Williston High School.

The District 1 school board voted unanimously at a special meeting Tuesday, April 30, to apply for an Energy Infrastructure and Impact Office grant to help build part of a planned addition at WHS. The district is asking for $3.1 million to pay for expanding the school’s common area.

The expansion is just a fraction of the $15 million addition that was part of a larger plan to address overcrowding. The plan failed to get 60 percent of the vote in April, leaving district officials wondering how to address overcrowding at nearly every level.

The commons expansion at the high school was chosen because it was the closest the district had to a discrete project, board President Joanna Baltes said. It was also easier to show that the increase in enrollment at the high school is directly tied to oil activity.

Baltes said that between 2014 and 2016, relatively few new students entered at the high school level, but in the last few years, that number has increased dramatically.

The grant will pay for a 3,850 square-foot addition to the south end of the common area. That will add space for 160 seats, providing much-needed seating during the school’s crowded lunch periods.

“This will give us some of the relief we need,” district superintendent Jeffrey Thake said.

The district has to show financial need, and Baltes said in the application she is laying out the growth the district is facing, as well as the two bond referendums that failed to pass. In January and then again in April, between 57 and 58 percent of voters approved two questions that would have raised money for two new elementary schools and an addition to both the common area and educational wing of the high school.

A supermajority of 60 percent was required for the plan to pass.

The district has gotten help from the grant program before. There was a $3 million grant to help with the purchase and installation of modular classrooms at McVay Elementary and $5 million for the Career and Technical Education building at Williston High School.

In addition to the extra space for the common area, the project would add hallway space to make movement between classes easier, as well.

It’s unclear how much money is available from the state’s grant fund, as the Legislature recently cut funding for the program. One of the reasons the district decided to apply for this project was it was the smallest single project that would help with overcrowding, Baltes said.

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