For the first time in about 20 years, Missoula County Public Schools broke ground on a new school site Monday.

The new elementary school is expected to open in August 2018 as a replacement for Cold Springs Elementary. The purchase of the eight-acre site for the new school was approved in 2016 by the school district for $500,000. The site is on the corner of Bigfork Road and Lower Miller Creek Road, about two miles southwest from where the school currently is located.

The site is outside city limits and still needs approval to be annexed into the city, though that is expected to go through by mid-July, said Burley McWilliams, supervisor of operations and maintenance for MCPS.

There also will need to be some pre-site construction — like laying sewer and water lines — before general contractor Sletten Construction can start on the building, said Mike Guelff, Sletten project manager.

Students will still attend school at Cold Springs Elementary for another school year, said school principal Susan Daniel. The district has not yet decided how the school building will be used after that.

The building doesn't accommodate flexible learning spaces, Daniel said. The space is cozy and comfortable, but a lot of that is thanks to the teachers, she said.

The new space will centralize student services, like administration and counselors, at the front of the building. There also will be a learning staircase as well as a centralized library to help encourage more students to read, Daniel said.

Cold Spring students got to be architects for a day when A&E Architects came in during the school year to talk to them about what the students wanted for their new school, Daniel said.

“Some of them had roller coasters on the roof, so we couldn’t take all the ideas,” Daniel said.

But the involvement of the teachers is important to the design of the school and Daniel plans to make a wall with progress updates that will be on display throughout this year for teachers and students, Daniel said. Teachers and students also will have input on the school’s new name, which will be decided later.

Construction on several schools — including Cold Springs, Lowell, Franklin and Russell elementary schools, Washington Middle School and Willard and Hellgate high schools — will occur throughout the summer as part of the Smart Schools 2020 initiative, according to Hatton Littman, director of technology and communications.

The projects are funded by an $88 million elementary district bond and a $70 million high school district bond approved by voters on Nov. 3, 2015.

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