BISMARCK – It’s back to the cutting board for school districts in the state caught up in rising inflationary costs of construction projects.
Communities that passed bond issues – Minot, Rugby, Mandan, and West Fargo, had hoped to get some assistance from the state legislature to complete their building projects. However, two bills that would have provided more money for those construction projects have been rejected by the North Dakota Senate.
House Bill 1185 sought to release up to $60 million dollars from the coal development trust fund for “unanticipated construction projects and emergency repairs.” School districts could have qualified for a “maximum grant amount of $5 million.”
The bill passed the House unanimously, 90-0, but crumbled in the Senate 3-43. On Monday a second bill aimed at helping school districts pay for increased construction costs, HB1186, which had passed the House 82-11, failed in the Senate 46-1. HB1186 would have allowed a maximum loan of $16 million from the Bank of North Dakota at 1% interest per year.
Minot Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Vollmer was among those who had testified before legislators, urging them to provide some financial relief to school districts caught in the rising cost of construction.
“I think there’s a reluctancy to the legislature to commit to grand funding to support these projects,” said Vollmer following the defeat of HB1186. “I’m going to tell you, flat out, that’s pretty unfortunate.”
Vollmer praised voters for passing school bond construction in December 2021, for the purpose of transforming a building in northwest Minot to a 4-year high school, upgrading Magic City Campus to accommodate 4-year students rather than two year, and making changes to Central Campus to convert that 2-year facility into a middle school for 6-7-8 grades.
However, the $108.6 million dollars approved by voters has been surpassed by rising construction costs. The difference is about $5 million.
“We did anticipate inflation. We put in a 4% contingency to deal with inflation, but right now the inflation rate for construction in western North Dakota is sitting at about 19%,” said Vollmer. “We’ve seen rampant inflation in the months from when we passed the bond election to now. There’s a handful of schools in the state that were just caught in this explosive inflation rate.”
Nevertheless, said Vollmer, adjustments will be made to complete Minot’s school construction projects.
“We’ll do the best we can. We are going to have a beautiful high school on north hill, a very functional 9-12 campus at Magic City Campus, and a third intown middle school at Central.”