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SOMERS — Faced with an aging building and growing student body, the Somers Lakeside School District is asking voters to approve a $15.8 million bond to upgrade the middle school.

The upgrade would include renovating newer sections of the current school and replacing older portions of the building.

The district mailed out ballots Friday, and they must be returned by Tuesday, Oct. 24.

District Superintendent Joe Price said the school is in bad need of upgrades to address both the educational needs of its current student body as well as accommodating potential growth that could come with a proposed new 178-lot subdivision.

The Flathead County planning department received a pre-application for the large subdivision last January. Planning department officials said developers are at early stages of the process to develop 60 acres in Somers.

Price said the district has been working with the developers on a utility right-of-way.

At this point, Price said Lakeside Elementary School is completely full with students. This past summer, the district converted a room used by teachers as a break room into a classroom to accommodate incoming students.

If voters approve the bond, Price said the district could move the fifth grade to the middle school to make room for growth in the student body.

Price said there is a long list of upgrades that need to occur to offer the district’s students the opportunities afforded to other students in the state. The plans for the new building would incorporate new technology to create more hands-on learning opportunities for middle-school students.

For instance, Price said the school has a science classroom, but not a science lab.

“We know that students learn and retain information better when they have a hands-on experience,” he said.

The current middle school building was constructed in several phases.

The oldest is the west hall. Built in 1953, that portion of the school has old and decaying windows, an overloaded electrical system, inadequate heating and ventilation and there are issues with the plumbing.

On top of all that, Price said “there’s asbestos everywhere.”

The south hall was built in 1993. It includes the current areas used for art and music.

The stage doesn’t have space behind it to allow students to assemble before a performance and when they gather there, the acoustics don’t project sound toward the audience. The stage also doesn’t have any sound or lighting equipment.

The school’s “tiny little gym” isn’t large enough to host any indoor sports, Price said. On top of that, that space is carpeted.

The school’s shop is located in the basement of the old section of the school.

“Having a shop class there is like going back to the 1950s,” Price said. “There’s no dust control. There’s no good ventilation. We can only have 12 kids down there at a time.”

The entrance and school office was built in 1967. At this point, the office manager can’t see the front entrance. The phone system is outdated, with an inability to make announcements to the entire school.

If the bond passes, the district would tear down the sections of the school built in 1953 and 1963. Renovations would occur to the newer sections built in 1993.

Construction would be completed in phases. A new gym and stage would be the last portion of the building project. Price said that probably would be completed by 2020.

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