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Grant to help cover land costs for new school: Land Board awards nearly $10 million in energy impact grants

BISMARCK — The state Land Board on Wednesday approved another round of energy impact grants for schools and colleges in western North Dakota, including nearly $1.4 million for the McKenzie County Public School District to purchase land for a new school in fast-growing Watford City.

Williston State College received the largest award among higher education institutions, a $1.75 million grant to erect a new building for workforce training programs.

The Board of University and School Lands — commonly referred to as the Land Board — awarded a total of $5.6 million in grants to two dozen K-12 schools, after awarding $6.8 million in August from the program, which is designed to address the impacts of rapid growth associated with North Dakota’s booming energy industry

“I think the list looks very sound and very equitable,” Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who chairs the board, said during Wednesday’s meeting. “I think it’s going to make a huge difference out there.”

McKenzie County School District Superintendent Steve Holen called the $1,376,196 grant to help the district cover site costs for the new school “certainly a great step forward for us.”

Enrollment in the district has nearly doubled in the past three years, from 540 students in 2010 to 1,060 students currently, about 60 percent of them in grades K-6, he said.

Last week, the school board approved a site just east of Watford City for the new school. Holen said the board is leaning toward building a new high school and remodeling the existing high school into a middle school, but it’s still soliciting public input on the new school’s makeup.

The board will likely finalize the plan in January and ask district patrons to vote in March on a bond issue to fund the school, roughly estimated to cost $30 million to $40 million, Holen said. Officials hope to start construction next summer and have the school open for students in the first half of the 2015-16 school year, he said.

The Land Board has set aside $12.5 million in grant funds for Oil Patch schools for each year of the 2013-15 biennium, as well as $13.6 million for schools seeing rapid enrollment growth state-wide.

Grant requests from K-12 schools this round totaled $15.2 million. In addition to the $1,376,196 for the McKenzie County district, the awards include:

* $750,000 to provide teacher housing for the Nesson Public School District in Ray.

* $400,000 for Grenora Public School District to replace a heating system.

* $279,000 for the Tioga district to expand and remodel a kitchen and cafeteria.

The K-12 requests not funded this round included applications for buses, building construction and iPads and other technology, said Lance Gaebe, commissioner of the Department of Trust Lands.

Higher education institutions requested $6.8 million and received $4 million in grants.

In addition to the $1.75 million grant, Williston State will receive $250,000 to demolish the vacant Dickson Hall residence hall. Minot State University will receive $1 million for campus security measures, while Dickinson State University will get $800,000 to expand and renovate a residence hall and $181,500 for a campus access control system.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.