South side growth requires new look at Fargo school enrollment
FARGO — Continuing residential growth on Fargo's south side is prompting school officials to start planning for how to accommodate enrollment growth over the next five years and more.
A demography consultant for Fargo Public Schools predicts the district's student population will increase 6.1 percent by 2022-23, with the greatest increases among high school students, forecast to grow 10.4 percent, and middle school students, expected to increase 6.3 percent.
The timeline to have measures in place to accommodate growing enrollment is likely three to seven years, but officials want to act before space issues cause problems, said Jim Johnson, president of the Fargo School Board.
"Right now, we don't have any schools that are overcrowded," he said.
After more board study and public input, actions could include building an addition onto a school or altering school boundaries for secondary students, among other possibilities, board members said.
"There are lots of alternative ways to address overcrowding," Johnson said. Magnet programs, for instance, can lure students to a school. Changing school boundaries, he added, "is just one way to solve an overcrowding issue."
The most pressing need for additional space is for programs to help students with special needs, Johnson said.
The early childhood special education program, located at Agassiz School and Madison Elementary School, must deal with an increase in children ages 3 through 5 who are diagnosed with special needs.
"That is front and center our most urgent facility need right now," Johnson said.
Another program for students who have significant behavioral issues also will need more space, he added. Space now is available for middle school students, and officials expect they will need to provide similar space for elementary students.
Most new housing likely will be built south of 52nd Avenue South, increasing student populations at Discovery Middle School and Davies High School, consultant RSP & Associates predicted.
The board is considering a $16.3 million expansion at Discovery, which was built 23 years ago. If approved, the project would add space for the commons area and cafeteria, as well as space for music rehearsal and wrestling, but not classrooms. Davies, which opened in 2011, was built with the possibility of adding more space to accommodate growing enrollment.
The Fargo district faces less pressure to add space for elementary grades. That population is expected to grow 3.3 percent by 2022-23, according to the consultant. Also, the district altered school boundaries for elementary schools several years ago, and those boundaries now are stable, said board member Dinah Goldenberg.
"This is strictly about the possible needs of overcrowding that may arise in the Discovery and Davies areas," she said.
Fargo's population continues to increase, but the growth rate dropped in 2016 to a yearly gain of 1,000, down from 2,000 or more new residents each year from 2008 through 2015, according to the consultant.
"Things are slowing down from what we've experienced the last few years," said Goldenberg, who added that the board is just beginning this latest round of long-range facilities planning. "We're a long way from making any decisions."