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Watford City bracing for huge school growth due to oil boom

WATFORD CITY, North Dakota — Watford City’s school enrollment is expected to double to 1,600 students in the next three years because of the western North Dakota oil boom, and officials are discussing the best way to accommodate the growth.

McKenzie County is becoming the epicenter of the oil boom, with thousands of workers in towns and crew camps. There are 73 rigs currently drilling and the county is poised to become the top oil-producing county in the state, surpassing Mountrail County. The Watford City school, which is just completing an $11.5 million, 30,000-square-foot addition to its elementary school, hired a consultant to calculate student numbers in coming years.

School board member Gary Bruins said he has confidence in the projections, and city resident need to decide what to do.

“Do we build a building or go with portables (temporary classrooms)? The public will make that decision,” he told The Bismarck Tribune (http://bit.ly/182LuuS ). “I’d rather build — 700 students in portables, that’s quite a number.”

Building a new high school for grades 9-12 and converting the existing high school into a middle school for grades 5-8 seems to make the most sense, School Superintendent Steve Holen said.

“A third building would be a drastic change from what we’re used to and it’s something that we haven’t had to think about,” Holen said. “But now, with these numbers, three buildings seems inevitable.”

A third building would cost as much as $30 million, and the school would need financial help from the state, according to Holen.

“Right now, we don’t have it,” he said. “We’ve done what we can do and from here on, we need help.”

Bruins hopes community meetings can be held this summer so that residents can vote in the fall on what to do. Even if a new school is approved that quickly, it would not be ready until 2016, he said.

Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com

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