Hellgate Elementary will ask its voters to support a facility expansion bond measure this fall.
The board of trustees voted unanimously to put a $19.8 million general bond levy on a Sept. 20 special district ballot. Ballots will be mailed no later than Sept. 1.
It's a three-pronged project, a result of increasing enrollment that officials say shows no sign of slowing. This school year, Hellgate had 1,510 students. That's about 300 more than a decade ago, and officials project an additional 200 students by 2023.
Essentially, they're running out of space, said Superintendent Doug Reisig.
The district is calling for a new middle school for grades 7-8 just west of the administration building, as well as a continuous road system circling campus, and more recreation areas.
If the bond passes, construction would begin in March 2017. They expect that the middle school, which would hold 400 to 450 students, would open in September 2018.
Traffic congestion around the school is not new. Vehicles would enter on Siren's Road, go around campus and exit onto Flynn Lane near England Boulevard – all property that the district already owns. The project also would add more parking to campus.
"That was huge for us in terms of trying to alleviate some traffic mitigation issues that we currently have," he said. "Whether we increased enrollment or not, those traffic issues are here.
"This roadway system that will skirt the exterior of the campus will provide people the opportunity to come in from the south and exit to the north, so they don't have to go back to Mullan Road. They can get to Broadway, they can get to Reserve Street, they can access England Boulevard, which is huge for us with our traffic flow."
Additional recreation areas would include installing a track, soccer and football fields, a basketball court, softball and/or tee-ball field and play areas on campus.
This piece ties the school and its community, Reisig said.
"We really have very little in our area for the community in terms of recreation areas, whether it be soccer areas or picnic areas or for that matter just a track that people could walk on, for heaven's sake, and not have to walk along a road somewhere," he said. "We are a community-based school in the Hellgate Elementary area. When we think about doing things for the school, we also have to think what can we do to enhance the quality of life for our community."
Sixty percent of those who live in the Hellgate district don't have children in school, according to the city of Missoula.
"Our area is growing," Reisig said. "It's not only growing with young families, but it's growing with people who are aging as well."
One of the biggest pushes Hellgate still has to make is reminding its voters that they're not part of Missoula County Public Schools – especially after the passage of last fall's $88 million MCPS elementary district bond measure.
"This is really a local control decision for us," he said. "People always talk about local control; well, this really is. We know the kids are coming, we know more kids are going to come, we know that they're our district's kids because they have to live here. Where are we going to house these kids and where are we going to provide the quality educational opportunity that Hellgate Elementary's been known for?"
To help market the campaign, the district is contracting with Missoula-based Spiker Communications for $17,000.
A Hellgate taxpayer with a house at $200,000 market value would see an estimated $11 monthly increase on their tax bill. In a year, that's $132.
D.A. Davidson & Co. also broke down the taxable value of property in the Hellgate district. It shows that 47 percent is residential and the rest is commercial (39 percent) and other properties – agricultural, forest, business equipment.
"So over half of this bond is going to be paid for not by homes and residents, but by commercial industry," Reisig said. "That has continued to grow, and part of the reason this is growing in our area is the school and the reputation that Hellgate Elementary has to produce a quality educational environment for kids."
Hellgate's maximum bonding authority is about $49.5 million, though currently, it sits at about $39.5 million due to the district's $9.8 million outstanding 2008 bonds issue. The district was also able to recently pay off about $151,000 on its Special Improvement District.
As discussion of the facility expansion got underway, the district came up with four options.
Most people – trustees, staff, teachers and the community – liked the conceptual design of the one which included erecting a new middle school, as well as a new recreation area in the open fields on the campus' north end.
Paradigm v2 Architects and Jackson Contractor Group worked to lower the cost of the project from the original quote of $22.4 million to $19.8 million. The district asked them "to go back and refine the project scope and materials used and identify those as opposed to it being more broad-brush," Reisig said.
"We're a very conservative school district. Our taxpayers are very tax-savvy. They understand the ramification of taxes, so to be able to come in at a rate, $2 million to $2.5 million lower than the initial projection, was a huge plus for us."