In recommendations made to the Missoula County Public Schools board of trustees from the facilities steering committee earlier this month on what projects to include in a roughly $88 million elementary bond measure, C.S. Porter Middle School stands to be renovated and expanded.
Even though it would cost more than the formal recommendation presented to the board, the idea of moving the middle school to the Emma Dickinson site just off of Third Street continues to be part of the discussion for the school.
Modifying the building at its current spot on Reserve Street and Central Avenue is a plan that excites the school community, said Chris Whiteman, choir teacher at Porter who was part of the school-level planning committee.
Although it would be nice to have a new building, nothing was compelling enough about it to justify the expense, Whiteman said, adding committee members wanted a realistic approach.
“And I think that is spending the funds wisely on updating the facilities here at Porter,” he said.
Also, other schools are more in need of repair and upgrades than Porter is, Whiteman said, using Lowell Elementary as an example.
Lowell students feed into Porter for middle school and they should have a positive learning environment before they get there, Whiteman said.
“There’s a certain amount of equity that everybody wants to be a part of,” he said.
The committee’s recommendation to upgrade would cost roughly $6.9 million, while relocating to and renovating the Emma Dickinson site would cost about $11 million, and a new building at the Emma Dickinson site would cost approximately $17 million.
Including recommended projects at the district’s nine elementary buildings and other two middle schools, the $6.9 million in work maxes out the elementary district’s bonding capacity.
The district estimates the Porter property could bring $8 million in a sale, which would offset part of the cost difference, but how quickly the property would sell and the actual sale amount are not certain, said Hatton Littman, the district’s technology and communications director.
“I think we all understand that that’s not something we can count on,” Littman said.
Ultimately, the decision rests with the trustees, who will hear from school-level teams and further discuss projects during a work session March 24.
Although the idea to move Porter is one that continues to receive consideration, it likely will remain just an idea, said Joseph Knapp Jr., the board’s chairman.
Already, the recommended projects have exhausted the district’s elementary bonding capacity, he said.
“So we don’t really have room to do it even if we wanted to with the funding we have now,” he said.
Another consideration is the Lifelong Learning Center, which serves more than 10,000 adults each year at the Emma Dickinson site.
“Emma Dickinson has proven to be a godsend for adult education and it is so extensively used, thank goodness for that,” Knapp said.
To move Porter also likely would entail redrawing attendance boundaries, he added.
The idea of relocating the middle school, though, remains an intriguing idea and continues to be discussed because it might better serve future kids, Knapp said.
Currently, the district’s three middle schools are centrally or southerly located when a demographic study completed as part of the district’s facility planning shows student populations will grow toward the central and northern parts of Missoula, he said.
Although Emma Dickinson is more centrally located, it is an existing building that could be used to create a more walkable school away from Reserve Street and more in line with where population growth will occur than Porter’s current spot, he said.
What seems appropriate for schools in isolation, though, might not be what’s appropriate for the district overall and the trustees are tasked with collating the recommendations into one plan across the district, which will include a recommended $70 million high school district bond, Knapp said.
“And that’s going to probably mean some adjustments for some of the projects,” he said.
If an elementary district bond measure is approved by voters in November and the school board chooses Porter’s preferred option, the school will get a new roof, boiler and heat distribution system, as well as structural improvements.
One of the plan pieces that has garnered excitement is the demolition of existing music rooms and the creation of a music and exploratory classroom wing on the northwest corner of the building. Doing so consolidates the exploratory classes in one area of the school and will improve supervision and foster different exploratory collaboration work, Whiteman said.
Moving the entrance and drop off/pick up area to the southwest will alleviate issues with heavy Reserve Street traffic, Whiteman said, adding Third Street is not a lightly traveled road itself and some students still would have to cross Reserve to get to a building at the Emma Dickinson site.
Remaining in the current location also allows the school to stay connected with Big Sky High School, where students are able to use facilities and work with teachers, Whiteman said.
Overall, the preferred option that has been recommended to the trustees prepares the building for the future of education, which is collaboration, Whiteman said.
“We’re going to be set up to be successful in these things,” he said.
To learn more about the Smart Schools 2020 facilities plan, go to mcpsmt.org/Page/7676.