School leaders shared strong support for facilities recommendations that would be included in what could be $158 million in bond measures to address deferred maintenance, technology infrastructure, safety and security needs, and capacity needs in Missoula County Public Schools.
The process to arrive at the recommended concepts and dollar amounts lasted roughly two years and included students, teachers, parents and community leaders.
Trustees will have the final say about the package presented to voters and they continue conversations about the order and scope of projects, as well as what to do with properties and projects not set to receive improvements through the bond.
A project that has been discussed several times by trustees is C.S. Porter Middle School, which is recommended to stay in its current location and be remodeled, although options to rebuild at the Emma Dickinson site off Third Street or to remodel that building also have been discussed.
C.S. Porter principal Julie Robitaiile and teacher LouAnn Hansen voiced strong support for remodeling the current building instead of relocating to the Emma Dickinson building, which currently houses the Life Long Learning Center.
Although moving the school is more expensive, selling the current site could help offset the increased cost.
The move, though, likely would change the attendance boundary for the school and its student population, which could cause an increase in low-income children from the school's current composition of 64 percent of students in poverty, Hansen said.
"Those students that live in poverty need to have the balance, they should not be tucked away in one place and just by themselves," she said.
All active school sites are included in the facilities recommendations for improvements, but one idea that is not is a K-12 performing arts center, which Vice Chairman Mike Smith said he would like to see be part of the package.
To help pay for a center, other properties the district owns but does not use could be sold.
Superintendent Alex Apostle cautioned against including property sales as part of the bond measures.
"I think the more clutter there is the more confusing it will be to the voter, so the cleaner we can keep the bond issue the better," Apostle said.
The recommendations do include funds for three new buildings – Franklin and Cold Springs elementary schools and Willard Alternative High School.
In the mornings, Willard Principal Jane Bennett picks up pieces of mortar that have fallen from the aging building.
"It's disconcerting to be in a building that's so old that it's literally falling apart," Bennett said.
Although it would be slightly less expensive to rebuild, Lowell Elementary would keep its facade but would receive dramatic internal improvements and an expansion that would require more than a year to design, pushing the project completion date out to summer of 2018 despite at least one trustee's desire for the project to be completed sooner.
Overall, principals and teachers who spoke during Tuesday's board worksession said they are excited about the recommendations and what they would mean for their buildings. They touched on several common themes, including that safer entrances and pick up/drop off zones are needed.
"I swear, schools were built before the automobile," Rattlesnake Elementary School Principal Jerry Seidensticker said jokingly.
More space to address capacity needs and more flexible learning spaces also were common themes.
At Hawthorne Elementary, a reading group meets under a stairwell, while a storage room will become a classroom to handle growing enrollment, Principal Becky Sorenson said.
The staff is prepared for increased enrollment, Sorensen said, "but our facility does not have the space."
Many people who spoke during the meeting also said upgraded technology infrastructure is needed at school buildings and shared stories of computers needing to be restarted and slow download times that negatively impact students and waste instructional time.
"Even third graders get very impatient when they're waiting for something to connect or download on the Internet," said Susan Anderson, principal at Lewis and Clark Elementary.
Several questions remain to be discussed, including adjusting costs to allow for $750,000 needed to have an owner representative to help manage all projects instead of just high school ones, the cost and necessity of improving buildings that will be used for swing space as buildings are renovated and rebuilt, the cost of acquiring land for several projects, and strategies for reducing costs.
Trustees will continue the discussion during an April 7 special board meeting, with the goal of finalizing bond ballot language in April, which would allow the district and a citizens group to launch efforts to share information with voters.
For more information about Smart Schools 2020, go to mcpsmt.org.