Missoula County Public Schools is beginning its search for a tenant to lease the administration building on Sixth Street and considering options for use of the building, but a pair of prospective buyers turned up this week at the board meeting as well.
Trustees approved Tuesday night a request for proposals for tenants interested in leasing the historic building that was originally used as the Missoula High School after being built at the turn of the 20th century.
At the meeting, Ryan and Jenny Montgomery, who co-own Montgomery Distillery, expressed interest in buying the property and transforming it into a boutique hotel while maintaining the building's integrity.
The district only approved a lease for the building, but the Montgomery couple attended the meeting to request the district also consider proposals for purchase.
“I’ve been interested in this building for some time. It’s just a beautiful, historical, architecturally significant building in a great location,” Ryan Montgomery said.
He did some research on the building and found that the capital costs involved with bringing it up to code would run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“When the capital costs are that high, it's a little less attractive for an investor or developer to enter a lease without the ability to own what they’re putting that much money into,” he said at the meeting.
Jenny Montgomery said they would be interested in preserving the building’s historical significance and told the Missoulian that they would like to open that to the public by using part of the building as a community learning space.
“This is part of Missoula’s history,” she said. “It’s truly beautiful. It could be shared with the community and open to the community at a time when our past is rapidly disappearing and Missoula is starting to look very, very different.”
The board approved a submittal deadline of May 5, 2020, to allow prospective tenants time to examine the property and develop a plan for use of the building.
The future of the administration building has been a topic at previous board meetings, and Trustee Grace Decker emphasized Tuesday that she would like to see people spread the word to avoid “a shock and a horror when people realize things are happening to the historic buildings that we all treasure.”
“I think now is the time to make sure that our community and that neighborhood understand that something different is going to happen there, and now’s the time to figure out what those plans might be,” Decker said.
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Superintendent Rob Watson also shared at the Tuesday meeting several immediate imperatives that came as the result of his “100-day” entry plan.
Watson took over as the district’s superintendent this summer and has spent the past five months on the job listening to various internal and external stakeholders to identify areas where the district is succeeding as well as areas for growth.
The superintendent said those conversations helped him identify some of the district’s strengths, which included school building and school safety improvements, high quality staff, strong relationships between the district and unions, and strong community partnerships in certain areas.
Looking to the future, he said he heard a call for more inclusion for all staff, learners and community members, a stronger focus on success for all students, and the opportunity for greater community involvement as the district develops its next strategic plan. Watson said he also heard support for the continuation of high-quality programs and partnerships.
In addition, Watson shared several immediate imperatives for the district to attend to in the next 12-18 months.
Among the imperatives, Watson identified the need for a short- and long-term plan for dual language immersion programs within the district at Paxson Elementary School and Washington Middle School.
Watson identified a total of 15 immediate imperatives, which he will share in entirety with the board prior to a work session on Dec. 9 where trustees will discuss and prioritize each.
He said the imperatives do not include standing initiatives within the district, and that more may be added to the list after trustees have the opportunity to discuss them in detail.
From July 9 to Nov. 22, Watson said he has talked with 88 internal points of contact including district staff and district partners such as union representatives. He said he has also had 401 external points of contact, which have included community members, the Missoula Chamber of Commerce, realtors, and the Mansfield Center at the University of Montana, among many others.
Watson said he hasn’t yet talked to many teachers, classified staff members or students, but that he plans to in the coming months.
He also called for a policy and procedure overhaul after realizing that many of the district’s procedures are not connected to any policy, as well as clarifying high school credits to ensure that policies are in place to address part-time students, alternative credit options and how online classes are counted for high school credits among eighth graders who are taking them.