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Paxson Elementary School

Paxson School’s architects worked within a “challenging budget."

A&E Architects principal Chris Martison updated the Missoula County Public Schools board of trustees Tuesday night, explaining renderings of designs that will add classroom space to the elementary school.

Because Paxson is one of the newest in the district – it was rebuilt at its current site in 1991 – there are fewer infrastructural and technology issues as are found in other decades-old schools.

Paxson’s project will take about $2.1 million out of last fall’s voter-approved $88 million elementary district bond, making it one of the smaller elementary projects.

“We came out of the chute pretty hot,” Martison said. “The budget was tight and the site is tight to work around. And the programming, I wouldn’t say it was difficult, but we had to make a pretty quick decision pretty early on.”

The upgrade will build an addition to the school’s east side and open up some classroom space in the existing building. The entryway will be pushed back into the building to create a secure entrance. Visitors will have to check in to be allowed entry as the doors will be locked.

“The lobby and everything going out to the east becomes a collaborative space environment,” he said. “It will be very active, there will be small work groups happening and lots of opportunities for learning outside the classroom in a more collaborative work space.”

The architects also designed the addition to align aesthetically with the existing building and with the neighborhood, “giving the neighbors not so much an institutional-type building but more playful, more colorful.” At public meetings, Martison said he heard people felt Paxson was “very institutional and cold.”

“When we began looking at the school, there were challenges with the budget again, obviously,” he said. “We really wanted to respect Paxson as a design. It’s a very well-designed school. We went through a lot of scrutiny when it was first built … it’s a 100-year building that’s built to last, so we wanted to carry that tradition forward. We wanted to use very good quality materials knowing that long-term maintenance costs are a key component with all these schools.”

With a $2 million budget, Martison said he didn’t want to sacrifice programming to add “a couple more movable walls or amenities inside the classrooms.” He said A&E Architects also didn’t want to “cheapen” the building with lower-quality materials.

“We focused the budget on actual need,” he said.


The district is also moving forward, somewhat hesitantly, with another bond project: resurfacing the MCPS Stadium track and exchanging the stadium’s grass for artificial turf.

At a previous meeting, some trustees were worried about the use of artificial turf due to concerns nationwide about the possibility of crumb rubber being carcinogenic.

Operations and maintenance supervisor Burley McWilliams came back to the board Tuesday night after researching the issue. A deal-breaker for whichever company the district chooses, McWilliams said, will be that they use EPDM rubber rather than SBR. The difference, he said, is that EPDM is not tire rubber.

“We will not accept SBR rubber, we are looking for virgin EPDM rubber,” he said. “It’s a polymer, it’s used in many different applications, like lining holding tanks for bottled water. It’s a rubber that, by what most people say in the industry, is much safer rubber than SBR.

“We’re leaning toward the side of it’s better safe than sorry. EPDM rubber has no studies against it.”

They’re working on a tight timeline, as the first game at the stadium is Aug. 26. The district isn’t required to speed it along according to any bond obligation, executive director of business and operations Pat McHugh said. They don’t necessarily have to be done at the same time, but the turf project has to happen before the track resurfacing, said Superintendent Mark Thane, in order to avoid putting heavy equipment on a new track.

“It’s more connected to pushing as many projects through as we can to avoid escalation charges, and also the connection to the state track meet, it would be a good time to do that,” McHugh said.

McWilliams said the district also hopes to work with a company with Montana references.

“It’s important that we look at Montana references from a weather and climate standpoint,” he said.


The trustees accepted the canvass of the May 3 school board election. Trustees Diane Lorenzen and Michael Beers retained their seats, and voters elected Vicki McDonald to the board.

Missoula County elections administrator Rebecca Connors said a discrepancy of 42 ballots was found during MCPS’ ballot recount Monday. It did not change the results of the election, she said.

“What we have concluded is that during the process of when staff was bringing votes to the tabulation machine, either another staff member took them thinking they were counted and scanned by the machine, and filed them with the voted ballots – which I think is most likely – or it was operator error and it canceled out a batch that were scanned but didn’t scan correctly,” she said.

McDonald was separated from the next candidate, John Fletcher, by 569 votes.

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Reporter for the Missoulian