Williams County Public School District No. 8 will ask voters to OK an $89 million bond to pay for two new elementary schools and a high school.

The District 8 board voted 5-0 Tuesday, Feb. 26, to prepare a resolution calling for a special election this spring. The board will vote on the resolution and set an election date at its regular meeting on March 11.

The bond will pay for two 600-student elementary schools, a 600-student high school with athletic facilities and the land where the new schools will go.

The story so far

District 8 started holding public meetings in December to discuss the possibility of new school and plan for increasing enrollment. In addition to multiple meetings and a committee of residents coming together to advocate for new facilities, the board heard enrollment projections from consulting firm RSP. The projections call for the district to nearly double in size in grades K through 8 between now and 2023 and, if high school students are included, to grow to about 1,600 students in that time.

Why new schools?

The district built Missouri Ridge School, which opened in the fall and was originally planned to serve as a middle school. Its other two schools, Garden Valley Elementary and Round Prairie Elementary, are both aging and primarily use modular classroom buildings. Round Prairie’s main facilities, including its kitchen, are too small to handle many students. Its location on 151st Avenue Northwest also has been an issue, because it’s far away from where most of the district’s students live. In the past, when District 8 has tried to send students who live in and around Williston to Round Prairie, parents have resisted. Garden Valley is already over capacity and its site isn’t big enough to allow the school to expand. It also lacks a gym and other facilities.

Where would new schools go?

The district is still looking at options for locations, but has committed to having one elementary east of Williston and one to the west. One location being considered is near Sportsmans Warehouse west of Williston, while another being looked at is on County Road 9 near Knife River, east of town. The high school could go near where Missouri Ridge is located.

What they’re saying

The special meeting Tuesday evening was packed with supporters of new schools, all of whom spoke in favor of two 600-student elementaries and a high school.

Miles Fischer, a District 8 resident, said he fully supported the plan for three new schools. He said the parents he’s spoken to feel the same way, even though the cost would be high.

“If you’re worried about the cost, we aren’t,” he told the board.

Kyle Renner, another resident, said he was in favor of the plan, as well, especially the high school.

“I think it’s time we take responsibility for the (high school) kids,” he said. “There’s 200 of them, it’s not like there’s 20 of them.”

Board members were supportive of the idea, too, but they were concerned about the cost both of building the schools and staffing them.

“What about operation?” board member Penny Soiseth asked. “Do we have the money to operate them?”

District superintendent Rob Turner said the district would have to be cognizant of the cost, but that teachers would be hired as needed. And, he pointed out, as enrollment increased, so would the funding from the state.

Business manager Sherri Heser said it would be tight at first, but the district could afford it.

“It just can’t happen overnight,” she said.

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