To rebuild or to rehabilitate Central School — that’s the question the Helena School District Board of Trustees must consider at its July 16 meeting.
The board has already indicated a commitment to reopen Central, but it remains to be seen what it will do to correct structural deficiencies in the school building and how it will pay for it.
On Tuesday the board will hear a presentation by architects from local firm Schlenker and McKitrrick Architects about the options.
Tim Meldrum, a principal with SMA, said the presentation will offer a very unbiased “apples-to-apples” discussion of the options.
That report won’t involve detailed design proposals or budget numbers, but will include and summarize what’s known about the structure and how it can get to the district’s 21st century needs.
“We’re trying to make it informative and fair,” Meldrum said. “We need to make sure that, as a community, we understand every angle.”
The board meeting is Tuesday at 4 p.m. at the Ray Bjork Learning Center, 1600 Eighth Ave. It may make a decision on Central at its July 16 meeting, Kultgen said.
Whatever the board decides, it will have to go to the district voters again and seek a bind issue to pay for it. Voters rejected a Building Reserve Levy this spring and will see it on the ballot again this fall, but District Superintendent Kent Kultgen attributes that to a lack of knowledge on what the district planned to do with the money. That spring bond issue, not the Building Reserve Levy, would pay for the Central renovation or rebuild.
“I just didn’t get the information out to the people,” he said.
A clearer picture, bolstered by firm board decisions on where it is heading with Central, could tip the vote, he said.
Engineers this spring found the century-old school building susceptible to severe structural problems in the event of an earthquake, and it was quickly emptied and its operations relocated.
If the voters approve the levy, it would still take three years to complete any work on the school.
So, if everything goes perfectly, Kultgen said, students entering Central for kindergarten this fall — at its temporary location at the Lincoln School — would return to Central in the fall of 2017, for fourth grade.
The district needs to tackle the Central School question before addressing other key issues facing the district, such as the possibility of a middle school in the north Helena Valley to relieve crowding in at C.R. Anderson, the largest middle school in the state.