Bond Project For Rapidly Growing Tioga School Goes To Vote Thursday

Students at Central Elementary in Tioga, N.D., who attend classes in temporary modular classrooms carry plastic totes to store their coats while they eat lunch at the main building on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

TIOGA, N.D. – For elementary students in this rapidly growing town, their daily trip to the school lunchroom requires coordination and creativity.

Students in eight classrooms bundle up every day and walk outside from a temporary classroom building to the cafeteria at Central Elementary.

The main school building doesn’t have enough coat hooks for all 250 students, so students in the temporary classrooms carry plastic totes they use to store their coats, hats and mittens during lunch.

Students and staff make it work, but a classroom that was converted into an overflow lunchroom does not meet fire code. And the trips back and forth, which are repeated for gym class and visits to the library and computer lab, take away from classroom time.

“We’re losing a substantial amount of time teaching and learning just because we’re separate,” Tioga Public Schools D’Wayne Johnston said.

The school district is asking residents on Thursday to vote on a $9.9 million bond issue to build a two-story addition for the elementary school and expand the cafeteria at the high school.

The proposal would add eight classrooms plus a music room at Central Elementary and eliminate the need for the leased classrooms, bringing everyone under one roof. It would also significantly expand the kitchen and cafeteria, adding more than 26,000 square feet to the existing 32,330-square-foot school.

The high school project is much smaller, adding onto the kitchen and cafeteria to ensure that it will meet fire code as students in the younger grades advance. The district, with about 425 total students, has seen the most growth in elementary grades because many people moving to the area to work in the oil industry tend to have younger children.

“We are asking for classrooms and cafeterias, the bare necessities of what we need to have a school,” Johnston said.

Feedback from the community indicates residents support the project, but some question why it would be locally funded, Johnston said. A homeowner whose home is valued at $150,000 would pay about $192 in additional property taxes.

“They believe the need for new school construction is directly related to energy and they’re a bit disappointed, I believe, that there aren’t any state discretionary funds for school construction,” Johnston said.

The state has provided energy impact grants to the schools, but the district has no alternative except going to local voters to fund permanent construction, Johnston said.

Central Elementary Principal Timothy Schaffer, who has watched enrollment more than double from 110 students when he arrived six years ago, said an important aspect of getting students under one roof is increasing safety and security.

On Monday, a custodian chipped ice from the sidewalk where students walk.

The school started having students haul plastic totes back and forth after staff learned – the hard way – that having students pile their coats on top of one another could lead to lice outbreaks.

“That was a tough lesson learned,” Schaffer said.

Johnston said the cooks and other staff have done a good job of adapting with the rapid growth, but the cafeteria is not close to adequate.

“There’s only so much changing and adapting you can do,” Johnston said. “Quite literally, it’s come to the point in time where there aren’t any more pans that will fit in the oven that can hold any more fish sticks. We’re out of space for fish sticks.”

The polls are open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday at Central Elementary School.