Referendum for New Richardton-Taylor School Passes

RICHARDTON — The Richardton-Taylor school district is getting a new high school.

Residents of Richardton and Taylor voted on Tuesday night to approve a bond referendum during a special election, though the results were clearly split between the two towns.

Sixty-five percent voted in favor of the $2 million bond referendum for the $12 million project. Curiously, nineteen less voters approved of raising the district’s debt limit by 5 percent to help finance the project with a $10 million loan from the Bank of North Dakota.

“We’ve been working on this thing for two-and-a-half, three years,” Richardton-Taylor Superintendent Brent Bautz said late Tuesday night. “We’ve put a lot of hard work into it. It’s good to finally realize it’s coming to fruition.”

The bond referendum needed a 60 percent “yes” vote to pass. It was decided by just 28 votes.

Vote tallies showed Richardton voters overwhelmingly supported the project while Taylor residents opposed it.

Seventy-three percent of Richardton residents voted in favor of both the referendum and raising the debt limit. Only 43 percent of Taylor residents voted for the referendum and 40 percent voting to raise the debt limit.

Bautz said the district needed to raise the debt limit because the North Dakota Century Code would have only allowed the district to borrow 5 percent of its assessed value, which wouldn’t have been enough for the project. The approve allows the district to borrow 10 percent of its assessed value.

Bautz said the district would like to begin construction on the project next spring with a scheduled completion by summer 2018.

Richardton-Taylor’s administration and school board approached residents about a remodel earlier this year because of decay in the 55-year-old facility and as a long-term cost-cutting move.

The current high school building in Richardton holds grades 7-12. The elementary school in Taylor has grades 2-6. Pre-kindergarten through first-grade students are in the St. Mary’s Social Center Building in Richardton, which costs roughly $72,000 annually in lease payments and additional staff.

With the referendum passed, pre-K through first grade will move to Taylor and grades 5-12 will be placed in Richardton.

Mott-Regent Passes $8.7 Million School Bond Issue by Thinnest of Margins

MOTT — Mott-Regent is getting a new elementary school and making major improvements to its high school.

The district’s school board made that official Monday after a canvassing meeting found that 61 percent of the district’s residents voted in favor of the $8.7 million bond referendum. The project needed a 60 percent “yes” vote to pass.

Viola LaFontaine, the district’s new superintendent who is just settling into her role and doesn’t start full time until July, said she has heard the mixed opinions about the bond passing.

“When you get a vote this close, you know there’s opinions out there,” she said. “I’m hearing different things.”

The bond calls for a 32.01 mill levy increase, or about a $143 increase on $100,000 in residential property. Cropland will see an average tax increase of 93 cents an acre.

A total of 639 district residents in Hettinger, Adams and Stark counties voted on the bond referendum, with only 390 voting yes. It was such a thin margin, the school board waited to receive additional mail-in ballots at Monday’s canvassing meeting to officially announce the results. They received just one mail-in ballot.

Mott-Regent has 240 students in its system.

With the funding, the district will construct a new elementary school, remodel and renovate the high school building, and demolish the old elementary school.

Work could begin immediately, LaFontaine said. Though she and school board president Kevin Roth said the school is likely going to ensure all the legal aspects of the project are shored up.

“We’re not going to rush into anything,” Roth said. “We’re going to do our due diligence and do everything properly. Hopefully everything will come in under bid.”

Consolidated Construction was hired as the contractor at-risk for the project. LaFontaine said the company wants to start soil borings and sight surveys soon.

“Some of those things, I think we can do pretty quickly,” she said.

The school will officially approach the Bank of North Dakota this week about a 2 percent, 20-year loan.

“The main thing is we just move forward from here,” she said. “I’m a very open and willing to listen to people, and am looking to make this a positive move for the Mott-Regent School District. … This is an opportunity for the school to celebrate education.”

The district also canvassed the election of incumbent school board members Garret Swindler and Lucas Greff, as well as newly elected Jeremy Ottmar. All three ran unopposed.

Free kids books are back: Imagination Library program restarts in Stark County

Jessina Kary said she wasn’t sure what had happened when her son, Isaac, stopped receiving his monthly book through the mail from the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program.

She wondered if there had been a mixup in her address after her family had moved. It wasn’t until later that Kary and hundreds of others learned the program had lost its funding in Dickinson, leaving nearly 600 children ages 5 and under without the free book they’d come to expect and enjoy every month.

“He loved it,” Kary said of 4-year-old Isaac. “The first book he ever got was ‘Little Engine That Could’ and we still love that one because he still loves trains.”

Soon, Isaac Kary and kids across Stark County will start receiving their Imagination Library books again.

North Dakota First Lady Betsy Dalrymple helped announce the restart of the program Monday morning at the Dickinson Area Public Library and later read “Roar of a Snore” to a group of children.

“There’s nothing better that a community can do than to help give a gift to your children once a month,” Dalrymple said.

The Imagination Library program was brought back in large part because of a donation of $16,000 by WPX Energy, an oil and gas exploration company with a large stake in the Bakken. Their donation allows children in all Stark County cities except Belfield, which has its own Imagination Library program, the opportunity to sign up for the Imagination Library.

“I really want to tip my hat to them (WPX) for underlining the difference that this program can make in the lives of children,” Dalrymple said.

Imagination Library was launched in 1995 by Dolly Parton, a country music legend and actress, to benefit children ages 5 and under in her home state of Tennessee. It has since expanded to every state, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. Each month, children receive an age-appropriate book through the mail.

When Dickinson’s Imagination Library lost its funding, several interested parents and educators formed a committee to bring it back. With Dalrymple’s help and support from WPX, the program relaunched in April.

“There’s such a great need for this, so I’m glad we were able to get a committee together and get this going again,” said Lane Talkington, Dickinson’s children’s services librarian

Nearly 1,400 children in Stark County are eligible for the program, and the committee hopes to get every one of them signed up.

Chelsey Scherr, representing the Badlands Reading Council, works for the K.I.D.S. Program in Dickinson and said she sees the difference in children who are read to early and often in a world full of screens.

“What they really need is a parent who gets on the floor, plays with them and reads to them,” Scherr said.

Erica Crespo, part of the committee to help restart the Imagination Library in Stark County, held her 1-year-old son Vaile as they listed to Dalrymple and others speak.

She said she was disappointed when the program lost its funding around the time Vaile was born. Now that it’s back, they are signed up and awaiting his first book.

“It’s just an awesome program to promote literacy in our community,” Crespo said. “So many parents don’t know about this program.”


Permanent fix: Richardton-Taylor school officials propose $15 million remodel

Brent Bautz walks out of his office at Richardton-Taylor High School and points to the ceiling.

There, the school superintendent shows where brick is cracked, displaced and appears to be pulling away from wooden beams, some of which have large cracks in them.

The school building that houses the district’s 130-plus junior high and high school students is 55 years old and, Bautz and others believe, needs to be replaced.

“A lot of people, they don’t realize when you walk down the hall and you see that stuff,” Bautz said. “When people come here most of the time, it’s just for games. Of course we always want everything to look nice. People say, ‘Oh there’s nothing wrong with the school, it looks fine.’ But foundationally, we have some issues.”

Bautz said Wednesday the school district is in the early stages of discussing a possible $15 million remodel of the existing school, which would include tearing down the south wing and reconstructing a two-level building in its place, and an almost complete overhaul of other parts of the building.

The project, which would require a bond issue, includes adding a multipurpose gym that could double as a cafeteria and commons area, a new band and choir room, a remodel of existing locker rooms, and a new secured entrance near administrative offices.

EAPC Architects Engineers, a Bismarck firm, recently finished a 40-page assessment of the building and described its issues in plain terms.

“In general, the high school buildings have significant structural and foundation deficiencies that include life safety concerns,” the firm wrote in its executive summary.

The report also found multiple areas of the school out of compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Duane Zent, Richardton-Taylor’s school board president and an area farmer, said the board believes the plan to tear down the south wing and build a new structure in its place is the most cost-effective way of ensuring the school’s future.

“The board feels like we need to build a new building because our building in such bad shape that to pour more money into it, it’s going to be an unending project and we’ll still have an old building at the end of the day,” Zent said.

Zent, who graduated from the school in 1976 when the building was just 15 years old, said he remembers hearing the school was meant to last 30 years.

“These old buildings are not designed for any of this,” he said.

Why the need

Despite the oil slowdown in western North Dakota, Richardton-Taylor’s enrollment remains up compared to five years ago and it’s still steadily growing with nearly 300 total students.

There are 134 kids in the 7-12 building, and 164 kids in grades K-6.

Preschoolers, kindergartners and first-graders are in the old St. Mary’s Catholic School building in Richardton, which is leased by the district for thousands of dollars a month, and second- through sixth-graders are in Taylor. The junior high and high school students are in Richardton.

After a remodel, fifth grade and up would likely be sent to the Richardton school with the rest of the kids going to Taylor, which would also have air system improvements through the use of grants funding and mills, Bautz said.

“With the Taylor facility, structurally it’s fine,” Bautz said.

Richardton Mayor Frank Kirschenheiter said he’s a proponent of the remodel because the school system is a big reason why people choose to live in and around the community. Richardton-Taylor has a history of success in both its academic and athletic programs — notably Student Congress, speech, one-act play and, of course, football and basketball.

“Before the oil boom, the only draw we had to get people to town was that school system,” Kirschenheiter said. “It’s a school system that’s as good as any in the state and we have to keep it that way.”

However, Bautz, the board and city leaders like Kirschenheiter aren’t sure how taxpayers will react to the remodel plans, especially in the wake of the oil slowdown and current low ag commodity prices.

Alongside the school project, the city of Richardton may be faced with a large street reconstruction project in the near future that would require special assessments.

Minor street work in the town of about 550 people started three years ago, Kirschenheiter said, when cost estimates were much higher. Now that it’s easier to find engineers and contractors to do the work, the city wants to push forward with projects.

Like the school, the city’s streets were completed in the 1960s. Kirschenheiter said they’ve only had one chip-and-seal project done since.

“We don’t want it to be a burden on our taxpayers,” Bautz said of the proposed school project. “And that’s what’s so frustrating about it.”

Bautz and Zent said the school wants to have its plans for the remodel in order before they’re present to the public. No discussion for the project outside of regular board meetings has been set.

“We want to make sure … when we start going out and talking to the public that these are the right numbers, this is what we’re looking at, this is what it’s going to do to your taxes and that it’s a doable thing,” Bautz said.

Kirschenheiter, who said his grandfather told him “I paid for the school to educate you,” said he has similar feelings now that he’s in that position.

“It obviously is in need of repair,” Kirschenheiter said. “It has outlived its useful life in my opinion. Something has to happen.”

Marching for life: 2 Trinity students walk at front of of 750,000 during pro-life rally

Reporters and photographers watch as Trinity High School seniors Quinnlyn Nelson, left, and Brittany Berger walk in the March for Life anti-abortion rally in Washington on Thursday. (Submitted Photo)

Quinnlyn Nelson said it took her a while Thursday to grasp the scope of the moment.

Nelson and fellow Trinity High School senior Brittany Berger were among a select few students from North Dakota Catholic high schools given the opportunity to lead the annual March for Life rally against abortion at the National Mall in Washington.

The march drew an estimated 750,000 pro-life supporters, something Nelson said she didn’t immediately understand as she held the March for Life banner and walked at the very front of the rally.

“We were marching and we were going up this hill, and we looked back and I couldn’t see where the line ended,” Nelson said. “Knowing there are this many people that are passionate about this cause, this issue, was unbelievable.” Continue reading “Marching for life: 2 Trinity students walk at front of of 750,000 during pro-life rally”

Watford City’s student count up by 19 percent

WATFORD CITY — School enrollment in North Dakota’s fastest-growing small town has increased by 19 percent since May.

Enrollment in the McKenzie County School District, based in Watford City, increased by 255 students since the end of the 2013-14 school year, Superintendent Steve Holen said Wednesday.

“We’re doing as best we can,” Holen said.

Continue reading “Watford City’s student count up by 19 percent”

CONSTRUCTING A CLASS: Classrooms take shape as Trinity continues to recover from fire

Modular buildings have become a common tool in western North Dakota. Oilfield and construction projects often necessitate the need for temporary structures that can be erected, used and moved at a moment’s notice.

On the outside, the modular classroom buildings being attached to the west wing of Trinity High School have a similar feel. But looks can be deceiving. Inside, the eight classrooms feel like they could be in any actual school building. In some ways, they’re better.

“You’d think you’re in a school,” Dickinson Catholic Schools President Steve Glasser said Thursday while giving a tour of Trinity’s construction and cleanup progress.

“We want our students to feel at home. We really feel this is going to be very comfortable for our students and our teachers.”

Continue reading “CONSTRUCTING A CLASS: Classrooms take shape as Trinity continues to recover from fire”