Hellgate Elementary School is running out of classroom space and will seek the public’s input on plans to expand.
“Enrollment just continues to increase,” said Doug Reisig, the district superintendent. “It’s beginning to put real pressure on our buildings.”
Reisig is in his 16th year as the superintendent of Hellgate Elementary, the largest independent school district in the state. In 2006, the district had 1,197 students. This year, that number is up to 1,519, and Hellgate Elementary is projecting enrollment will rise by more than 200 students during the next five years.
In an attempt to get ahead of rising enrollment, Reisig said the district will hold a public meeting at the school at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 20, to discuss potential options for expanding the capacity of the elementary school.
“What we would like to see is what are the taxpayers, the residents and the parents, what do they want to see?” Reisig said.
The last time Hellgate Elementary expanded was in 2007, when it passed a $13 million bond to renovate and expand, including adding classrooms to each of its three buildings. That construction was completed in 2009.
“At the time, we thought we would be good for another 10 to 15 years,” Reisig said.
More residential development in the Hellgate Elementary area, which Reisig attributed to having more available land than other parts of town, drove enrollment up quicker than anticipated. This year, to make room for another kindergarten class, the school took over a room used by physical and occupational therapy staff, and divided a music room to give the professional staff office space to work in.
“This is an immediate need for us,” Reisig said.
While Reisig said administrators are open to other ideas from the community, the school has been working with Missoula’s Paradigm V2 Architects on the possible expansion.
Three solutions have been proposed: bringing in modular units to house students, adding more classrooms to existing buildings, or constructing a new building.
Reisig said the district’s 43-acre campus has more than enough room for a new building or for modulars between the administrative office and the middle school, if they choose to go with one of those options.
If the district decides to construct a new building, Reisig said it would likely be for the seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms, with other grades being redistributed among the existing three buildings.
Regardless of how it is done, Reisig said the district want to increase its capacity to between 1,800 and 2,000 students.
Reisig said the Jan. 20 meeting is just the beginning. He hopes monthly meetings will follow.
The intention is to make a decision on how to expand by May and put measure on the November ballot to pay for it. Reisig said administrators are still early in the process and don't have any cost estimates.
Reisig said the district has received feedback from community members who confuse Hellgate Elementary with Missoula County Public Schools, which will benefit from two building bonds totaling $158 million that passed in November.
“We’ve been telling people that we’re not MCPS and none of that money comes to us,” he said.
Whichever plan the district chooses to go forward with, Reisig said it would not affect any plans Hellgate Elementary has to build its own high school, although he said that issue has been put on the “far back-burner.”