Every penny counts

POWERS LAKE Children at Powers Lake Elementary are contributing their pennies and other coins toward a school construction project that has fallen $1 million short.

In six days, the children have raised $1,179, said elementary principal Sue Gunderson.

That won’t be enough to solve the problem, said Superintendent Marlyn Vatne, but it does make the kids feel like they’re doing something.

“It was their initiative,” said Vatne. “It makes them feel part of it and makes them feel like they have some ownership (in the school).”

The total cost of the project is an estimated $7.5 million, to be paid for with multiple sources of revenue.

Powers Lake voters passed a bond issue last October with 86 percent of the vote to help fund construction of an 11-classroom addition and new cafeteria at the high school. The addition is needed because of the rapid growth experienced by the school district on the edge of the oil boom in western North Dakota. Gunderson said the enrollment at the elementary has grown from 38 children four years ago to 105 children this school year. Years ago, when the district was experiencing declining enrollment, the cafeteria at the elementary was closed and elementary students began being bused to the high school a few blocks away for school lunch.

“We no longer have a cafeteria and we’re busing 105 kids to the high school to eat every day,” said Gunderson, who said it would not be practical or cost effective to reopen the cafeteria at the elementary. She said a lot of class time is wasted by busing the kids each day.

To fund the new classroom addition, which would put the elementary and the high school under the same roof, the district took out a $2.05 million loan from the State Bank of North Dakota which will be paid back by oil and gas production dollars. The district also received $400,000 from state energy impact funds and will be taking out a $1 million loan from local banks.

Even with all of the funds cobbled together, the project is still about $1 million short, said Vatne, who said the district had expected to receive more grant and state funding than it took in. The district is also close to its allowable debt limit. Another bond issue isn’t an option in the foreseeable future.

If the additional funding isn’t raised, the district will be forced to scale back the building project, said Vatne.

“We would not be able to add four of the classrooms, which is pretty essential for what we want to do,” said Vatne.

The Powers Lake School Foundation has raised about $100,000 which will be applied toward the project, along with the elementary school children’s $1,179.

Vatne and Gunderson said they’re hoping to raise the remainder. The district has set up a fund through the North Dakota School Foundation. For more information, log on to ( ndcf.net/powerslakeschoolfoundation.)