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Groups float plans for school land in Rattlesnake

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There may be some new dirt turned on the upper Rattlesnake Valley farm fields this spring, but Missoula County Public Schools officials aren't ready to commit to major changes there yet.

Representatives of Garden City Harvest and Missoula Parks and Recreation brought out plans for new crop space, a baseball field and a soccer field to Thursday's MCPS Finance and Operations Committee meeting. But the ideas depend on the school district's willingness to extend its lease another 10 years. With three years left on the current contract, MCPS trustees opted to debate a while longer before making a decision.

"There is interest in extending the lease, but not by 10 years," MCPS Business Director Pat McHugh said Friday. "Some trustees had concerns about potential district needs of the property in that time."

MCPS bought the 13.5 acres at the end of Duncan Drive as a potential school site or investment to fund a school site elsewhere. Seven years ago, it leased the land to the city, which in turn set up a partnership with Garden City Harvest to develop a community farm. The farm has produced more than 100,000 pounds of produce since 2002.

The farm program proposed expanding from its current six-acre plot to a nine-acre space. Parks and Recreation Director Donna Gaukler said Garden City Harvest appears to have permission to do that this spring, if its members believe it's worth the effort. The question is whether they want to risk committing the resources without long-term control of the land.

The sports fields are another matter. Gaukler said those would require extensive fundraising and partnership building, and would not likely go forward without a long-term commitment. There was interest in building new facilities starting this fall. However, without a prompt decision by the school district, that process will remain on hold, she said.

MCPS trustees are also considering rezoning the Rattlesnake land for future sale, but McHugh said that effort is also moving slowly.

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com

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