Late Tuesday night, with election results showing Missoula County Public Schools' $70 million high school bond trailing, Superintendent Mark Thane refused to give up hope.
"I tend to be an optimist," Thane said, insisting he would wait until the last votes were counted before declaring the fate of the high school measure.
His optimism was justified.
The last trays of ballots, which took until 2 a.m. Wednesday to count, gave MCPS a win on both its bond requests. Those last 2,523 ballots pushed the high school bond over the top, with 14,020 voters in favor to 13,838 against.
Passage of the measure, which joined the district's $88 million elementary bond in securing voter approval, means MCPS will move forward with extensive renovations of Sentinel and Hellgate high schools, remodeling at Big Sky High School, and the addition of a performing arts theater at Seeley-Swan High School.
It also means that Willard Alternative High School will get a new building, the football field at MCPS Stadium will be changed to artificial turf, and all the high schools will receive upgrades to their technology infrastructure, boilers and roofs, safety and security, among other features.
The 20-year high school bond will increase taxes on a $200,000 home in the district by about $72 per year, with the elementary bond adding $144 per year.
The MCPS district received strong support for its $88 million elementary school bond.
The 2 a.m. final, unofficial vote count showed 10,624 in favor of the elementary bond to 7,727 opposed.
The elementary bond will pay for deferred maintenance, technology and security improvements, and renovation and remodeling at all MCPS elementary and middle schools.
Bond money will also upgrade Internet connectivity at MCPS schools, including a wireless access point in every classroom.
Passage of the bonds, Thane said, means the needs of the district’s buildings can begin to be addressed. The district, as well as the MCPS Board of Trustees, will now plan the order in which projects will be accomplished.
First on the list are the rebuild of Franklin Elementary School and the extensive renovation of Lowell Elementary. Demolition on both projects is slated to begin in June, with the district intent on reopening both buildings in the fall of 2017.
On the high school side, Thane said the design of Hellgate High School’s changes most likely will be the most complex and begin the soonest.
He estimated that around 60 percent of the $158 million in bonds will be issued at the start of 2016, and the district will hire firms to begin designing projects by the end of this year.
“We will be working very aggressively to avoid inflation costs,” Thane said.
The superintendent said the district recognizes and appreciates that the bonds were a significant request to the community that will have a noticeable impact on taxes.
“We’re now charged with the responsibility not only of public resources but public trust,” he said.
Thane thanked the volunteers around Missoula who donated their time and energy to help secure bond passage.
By just 10 votes, Frenchtown School District's building reserve levy also passed when the final vote totals were released early Wednesday morning.
The $750,000 measure had trailed for most of the night, but eventually saw a victory of 939 votes in favor to 929 votes opposed.
The five-year, $150,000-per-year levy will be used to fix the heating system and roof at the elementary building, as well as repair its pavement and sidewalk.
The Frenchtown High School softball field will gain a concession facility and restroom, which will be designed and built by high school students as part of a construction class.
Levy funds will also upgrade the 40-year-old bleachers in the high school gym so they are accessible to all, and will repair or replace lockers in the locker room. Finally, levy money will repair water damage at the football stadium.
The levy will increase the taxes on a $200,000 home by $36.30 per year.