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Rattlesnake Elementary Principal Pam Wright talks about the school's new library at the start of this school year. By shifting classrooms, offices and other spaces around, the school opened on schedule while extensive renovations and additions were under construction.

Three school construction projects are complete, save some final touches, and Missoula County Public Schools is looking ahead to designing renovations at more schools in the new year.

Paxson and Rattlesnake elementary schools, as well as Seeley-Swan High School, are nearly 100 percent finished, said operations and maintenance supervisor Burley McWilliams.

Crews are "wrapping up some punch list items" at the three schools, "but for the most part it's unseen, unheard as far as construction goes," he said at Tuesday's school board meeting.

A new wing of classrooms was added on to Paxson, and with new furniture installed, students are already using the space. Rattlesnake had extensive renovations done in classrooms, infrastructure, as well as a new main entry, all of which are finished. New furniture is expected to arrive later this month.

Seeley's new theater is finished, with a couple of smoke detectors left to install in order for students to be allowed inside.

"Many of you know they had to take the roof off to do the project," McWilliams said. "They put a membrane down to protect the gym floor and there was minor damage in three spots."

He said crews will return in the spring to re-seal and repair the three damaged areas, but the facility will be safe to use this week or next.

Open houses will be scheduled later at the finished schools so the public can see the renovations.

Superintendent Mark Thane thanked the staff at these schools for their patience and professionalism, saying the construction was "not without some pain and angst."

"A number of staff members had to bear the noise and smells and disequilibrium that's caused by construction," Thane said. "I think in the first round we learned a great deal that will help influence us as we get into round two."

Rattlesnake kindergarten teacher Lisa Thomas spoke up, echoing statements she made in June about the disruption that construction caused.

"I'm thankful for the comments that were just made because really, it's been a living hell and no offense to the construction workers, but we hope we never see you again," Thomas said. "Construction is really hard, and it's a lot on staff.

"It's difficult. It's more than inconvenient."

***

The fiber internet project is chugging along, with 16 schools now connected. Rattlesnake's segment is still under construction and is slated to wrap up by March, said Senior Information Systems Manager Russ Hendrickson. MCPS hopes to extend the fiber network to the new Cold Springs site this spring as well.

Trustees unanimously approved L'Heureux Page Werner Architecture to design the Russell Elementary renovations.

LPW is also the architect on the Lowell and Franklin projects, which are slated to wrap up before the new school year begins in August.

About $4.6 million was budgeted for Russell's renovations and construction, which include a clear main entry, a new cafeteria, bigger playing fields and removal of the two annex buildings in order to expand the school north.

"Russell is going to benefit from everything we learned at Lowell and Franklin," said trustee Diane Lorenzen.

Requests for qualifications will go out for Willard Alternative High School Jan. 22 and Jan. 29, and an architect should be chosen in mid-February. The same will be done for Sentinel High Feb. 12 and Feb. 19, with an architect chosen in early March.

The district will also consider general contractor/construction managers for the Cold Springs Elementary and Washington Middle School projects in February and March, respectively. A&E Architects and Dowling Studio Architects have been chosen to design these schools, respectively.

"We've got some things scheduled out over the next four months to keep us plenty busy," McWilliams said.

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Thane's contract is expected to be up for approval at the next meeting Jan. 24.

If approved, Thane's current three-year contract, which runs through June 2019, will likely be replaced with a new three-year contract through June 2020 – essentially a one-year extension.

February marks one year that Thane has officially been superintendent, though he started serving as interim superintendent in June 2015 after former superintendent Alex Apostle's departure.

This school year, Thane's salary is $155,000. Add $15,000 to a tax-sheltered annuity and his total compensation package comes out to $170,000.

Thane said he has a few minor language changes he'd like to hammer out with attorneys before the contract goes up for approval.

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