The Missoula County Public Schools Board of Trustees used its meeting Tuesday to finalize the language that will appear on November's ballot for both bonds the school district is asking voters to pass this fall: $88 million for elementary schools and $70 million for the high schools.
The bonds include deferred maintenance, technology and security improvements at all of their respective schools, as well as remodeling and renovations. Among those renovations on the elementary side are complete rebuilds of both Franklin and Cold Springs schools.
The district did not decide where the new Cold Springs School will be located, and the elementary bond will appear on the ballot without that information. MCPS is considering four locations for the new building, including rebuilding at the current site.
Superintendent Mark Thane said the district is doing its due diligence in vetting the sites. Part of the argument for moving the school is that the majority of Cold Springs students are in the Linda Vista and Miller Creek neighborhoods.
Those areas are also the most likely to continue to grow in the future, compounding the issue of having the elementary school near the edge of its service zone.
If MCPS wants to buy a different parcel for the school, it will have to get voter approval at a future election. There is no money in the bond allocated for the purchase of land for a Cold Springs site, but the Board of Trustees has already outlined options to raise that money, including using proceeds from the sale of Roosevelt School, Thane said.
MCPS estimates the cost of the Cold Springs rebuild, excluding possible land acquisition costs, at $11.1 million.
If the high school bond passes, the Willard Alternative High School program would also receive a new building, currently planned to go on a lot of MCPS-owned land across South Avenue from Sentinel High School, though the selection is not final. A rebuild of Willard is estimated at $5.9 million.
At Tuesday's session, the board also approved a recommendation by the district to retain Great Falls architecture firm L’Heureux Page Werner to work on the conceptual design, planning and community outreach for construction projects at Lowell and Franklin schools.
If the bond passes Lowell, the oldest active school in the district, would undergo extensive remodeling and renovation, while Franklin would be rebuilt at its current site.
Trustees Julie Tompkins and Korbin Bragstad voiced concerns about the selection of LPW for the job, in part because the architects are not from Missoula. Trustee Diane Lorenzen said some of the Missoula firms that applied had partnered with out-of-state companies for assistance. After a rundown of the local engineering partners LPW would be using, Bragstad softened.
“I’m going to voters right now and saying we’re going to invest in Missoula County industry,” Bragstad said. “Just because it says it’s from Great Falls doesn’t mean we’re not.”
The Lowell and Franklin principals were on the selection panel, and both felt good about the choice, Lorenzen said.
Tompkins said one of the qualifications of the projects had been work in historical preservation architecture, and that in prior meetings neither the staff nor administration at Lowell voiced support for preserving aspects of the current school.
That push came from the public, she added.
Tompkins was the only elementary district trustee present to vote against the architectural recommendation, with trustees Lorenzen, Grace Decker and Heidi Kendall voting in favor. Trustee Mike Smith abstained.
The pre-bond work done by LPW will be paid from the elementary district’s general fund and capped at $40,000. If the bond passes and the firm’s work passes muster, it would be offered the full design work for the schools.
District officials estimate the work at Lowell and Franklin schools will cost roughly $22.7 million of the $88 million elementary request.
Mail-in ballots, which include both bonds, will be sent to voters on Oct. 12, and must be returned by Nov. 3. The elementary bond would increase taxes on a $200,000 property by roughly $144 per year. The high school bond would increase taxes by $72 per year. Both bonds are for 20 years, and people living in the elementary district would pay both tax increases.