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(Photo: Kim Fundingsland/The Dakotan)
(Photo: Kim Fundingsland/The Dakotan)

School Districts Seek Legislative Help 

Kim Fundingsland
 March 2, 2023

Inflation Raises Construction Costs 

MINOT – The cost of new school construction in Minot has risen dramatically since voters approved a bond issue to reconfigure an existing building into a new high school, make improvements to Magic City Campus and, to a lesser extent, Central Campus. 

“When we passed that bond issue on December 7, 2021, our world was incredibly different than it is right now,” said Mark Vollmer, Minot Public Schools superintendent. “Our voters graciously approved $109 million to do this work.” 

Vollmer cited an example of the rising costs of construction, fueled primarily by inflation. Sections of concrete wall needed as part of the conversion of the previous Cognizant Building in northwest Minot that had been gifted to MPS, rose from an initial estimate of $1.2 million to a final bid of $6 million.  

“From the time we passed our bond issue to the time that we started bidding we were hit by just tremendous inflation,” explained Vollmer. 

MPS responded by making several cuts to original plans amounting to approximately $8 million. One of the budget adjustments was a decision to keep the original rooftop air handlers on what will become Minot North High School, rather than replace them at a cost of about $800,000. 

Construction continues at Minot North High School with an opening planned for the fall of 2024. (Photo: Kim Fundingsland/The Dakotan)

“They are working yet but are at about the end of their life,” said Vollmer. “But right now, with the budget constraints that we have, we’re going to keep those as they are.” 

Vollmer said one of the challenges in cost cutting is not creating a situation that will have to be dealt with financially within a few years, such as floor coverings in the new high school. 

“If you buy really cheap floor covering you’ll have to replace it in a handful of years. We’re trying to walk that line, cutting corners where we can. Not just kick the can down the road and create more problems along the way,” said Vollmer. 

Prefabricated walls were being erected this week at Minot's Magic City Campus. The addition is for an auxiliary gymnasium as the school transforms from a grade 11-12 facility to a four-year high school. (Photo: Kim Fundingsland/The Dakotan)

Minot Public Schools is not alone in feeling the crunch of inflation following voter approval for new building projects. Other cities similarly affected are Rugby, Mandan, and West Fargo. Rugby voters approved $7.8 million for improvements to Ely Elementary School. Finals bids totaled $11.3 million. Mandan voters approved an $84 million bond issue to build a new elementary school and high school. Final bids came in at $114 million. 

Such deficits have captured the attention of North Dakota legislators. Two bills, HB1185 and HB1186, aimed at addressing the financial difficulties school systems are facing due to rising construction costs, breezed through the House and will now be taken up by the Senate. 

HB1185 would allow loans for school construction projects through the coal development trust fund for “unanticipated construction inflation” and to declare an emergency with a maximum loan amount of $2 million. HB1186 is a school construction loan bill through the Bank of North Dakota. 

“It allows us to refinance when our bond is callable at one percent versus 4.5%. That’s a big savings for taxpayers,” remarked Vollmer. 

HB1185, which passed the House 90-0, has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee for further consideration. HB1186, which passed the House 82-11, has been received by the Senate but, at the time of this writing, had not been assigned to a committee.  

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