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A community meeting will be held Thursday to discuss the proposed demolition of Willard Alternative High School, a plan that has dismayed some neighbors of the school. 

The school is scheduled to be demolished between June and August 2018 after a new school is built on the same property, where the school's parking lot stands now. After the new school is close to being completed, the old building will be torn down to make room for a new parking lot.

The plans for the new building were presented Wednesday at a Missoula City Board of Adjustment meeting. 

During the public comment portion of the hearing, several Willard neighbors voiced their concerns over the plan to tear down the school. 

The neighbors said they were worried about the fact that the entrance and exit for the new parking lot would be off Sixth Street, which has a large amount of traffic.

Julie Devlin wants Missoula County Public Schools to explore using the old school, rather than tearing it down. 

After a community meeting in June, the school district revised the plans for the new Willard school, something for which neighbor Helen Jenkins thanked them. Those revisions included more preservation of the green space behind the school by reducing the size of the parking lot. However, Jenkins said she felt that not enough was done to engage the community in the process when it came to the design of Willard.

"I don't think the school's exterior reflects the identity of the neighborhood," Jenkins said.

Jenkins asked the board to use what influence it had to stop the school's demolition.

The Board of Adjustment has no power to impede the school district's plans, said Andy Short, board chair.

Local governing bodies have little control over what school districts do with their properties. A lawsuit over the demolition of Central School in Helena was dismissed earlier this year, with Helena District Court Judge Michael McMahon ruling that the school district has "exclusive and sole authority" over its property.

“This court concludes the Montana Constitution grants exclusive and sole authority to school boards of trustees to control and supervise schools and develop the full educational potential of each person,” McMahon said in his oral ruling. "Montana law expressly prohibits a local government, such as the city of Helena, from exercising any power that applies to or affects the local school system.”

The plan to demolish Central School was approved by voters as part of a bond issue, similar to the Willard school plan. The plans for Willard were included as part of the Smart Schools 2020 bond issue approved by voters in November 2015. Projects will continue into the year 2020.

The new two-story building would be large enough for 250 students, about 100 more students than now enrolled at the school. Willard School is meant for students with alternative learning styles in need of smaller classes and more hands-on curriculum. 

The new school would have a multipurpose space and a teaching kitchen — both of which could be used for neighborhood events. A sliding wall would separate a set of large stairs from the multipurpose room, meaning the stairs could be used by students as a learning space and could be transitioned into bleachers.

The community meeting on the plans will be held from 5:30 p.m. until 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 3 at Willard.

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