Issue: One question that was asked before the Jan. 8 bond vote in Williston Public School District No. 1 and is being asked again now that a new vote on the plan is set for April 9, is why the plan for new schools includes an addition to Williston High School. The school, which opened in August 2016 and cost about $56 million, was built with a capacity of 1,200. There are currently about 1,240 students at WHS and projections for next year put enrollment at 1,386. People have asked why the school is already at or over capacity when it opened two and a half years ago and voters approved it less than five years ago.
Background: Voters approved a $34 million bond for the high school in June 2014. That vote came 18 months after a $55 million plan to build new schools was soundly rejected. The plan in 2014 was to build a high school with a capacity of 1,200 students. Part of that was based on the amount of money the district could afford and part based on enrollment projections. Despite a slowdown in the oil industry right around when WHS opened, however, enrollment in the district has continued to increase. In fact, since 2014, enrollment has exceeded projections by at least 50 students per year. During meetings in the runup to January’s bond referendum, board members pointed out that one of the reasons the school was built to accommodate 1,200 students was because voters had turned down the more expensive plan in 2012.
Impact: The space issue at WHS is felt most during the school’s three lunch periods, board member Heather Wheeler said during a review of the plan last month. There isn’t enough room in the common spaces for students when it’s lunch time. Wheeler said space for 150 or more additional students is needed to correct that problem. “It’s just a desperate need,” she said. Another problem is a lack of space for special education classes, which require more space than other classes.
Plan: The district is putting it’s plan for a bond issue of up to $60 million and an increase in the district’s building fund levy from 10 mills to 20 mills up for vote again on April 9. In addition to renovations to the school’s existing elementary schools and two new 600-seat elementary schools, the plan would also pay for an addition to WHS that would add space for 400 more students.