Trustees are hoping improvements to Helena’s largest elementary school will mean more efficient and safer onsite parking and loading when school begins this fall.

The Helena School Board approved a nearly $660,000 contract Tuesday night to Helena Sand and Gravel for work at Four Georgians’ parking and loading areas this summer.

Of the district’s 11 elementary schools, Four Georgians is the largest, by size, at 51,460 square feet, and by population, at 502 students and 57 staff members.

All those people means a high level of traffic on an already busy Custer Avenue, also utilized by more than 1,000 vehicles coming and going from Capital High School, located just west of the elementary school.

In 2008, the district purchased the commercial property directly east of the school at 603 Custer Ave., formerly Playtime Video, for $450,000, with the idea of expanding parking and loading zones on campus, which will now be located off McHugh Avenue.

The goal of the work is to move the bus and private vehicle loading and unloading to an alternative location than Custer Avenue, to minimize loss of playground area and to eliminate parking spaces from the drop-off, one-way area, said John Carter, director of support services.

The changes will increase the current 50 parking spaces to almost 150.

“It sill won’t handle the spring fling or the Christmas program, but on a day-to-day basis it will be adequate,” Carter said.

Carter said the work is scheduled to be complete by August 20, but he admits it’s a big job.

“It’s acres of asphalt, and a lot of dirt to move, but I’m confident they’ll get it done,” he said.

Principal Melinda Thompson said the coming improvements are welcome.

“It will definitely be an improvement,” she said. “It takes care of all our safety and parking needs.”

The elementary school transportation and elementary school building reserve accounts will fund the project.

The work comes before the Montana Department of Transportation expects to bid a project to widen Custer in late 2011. The massive project will take several phases to widen the street to four lanes with a center lane with raised medians to control left- and right-hand turns.

Trustee Terry Beaver asked if the goal was to discourage access from Custer to the school through the work. Carter said yes, the district is looking at how to phase it out and create another option for a fire lane.

Trustees also heard a facility assessment report from Carter about the district’s newest school, built in 1977. According to Wyoming Educational Specifications,  Four Georgians is not quite adequate for classroom size or acreage. The district uses Wyoming educational specifications since Montana has none.

Carter said accessibility is fairly good in this building, particularly because there is no second floor that’s instructional space, just the mechanical room.

“It’s still 33 years old and uses two hot water boilers, which will be at the end of their service lives in the next 15 years,” he added.

The building needs additional relief air and doesn’t meet current ventilation standards. The roof will need 100 percent replacement in seven to eight years.

“All in all this building would be very close to accepted education specifications,” Carter said.

Beyond the work approved by trustees, the estimated cost in the next 15 years is more than $3 million.

For two years trustees have heard facility assessments about its buildings, and the final report will be at next month’s work session at Helena Middle School on May 25.

Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or

(2) comments


Thank goodness that this project is finally being completed. This area has been a nightmare to navigate for years, and unsafe not only for the children but for the parents trying to pick up and drop off their children. Hopefully it will help to relieve the congestion on Custer Ave. during school pick up and drop off times also making it safer for all others driving down that street.


$ 660,000 would be better spent purchasing a bicycle for each child and his parents. With money left over for bicycle racks at the school. If kids live too far away from school to bicycle or walk then the bus should be used. Incredible waste of resources to transport each 70 pound kid to and from school in individual 2 ton motor vehicles.

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