Although plans are still in the discussion phase, a new school in the North Valley and multi-million-dollar renovations to schools around the district are likely in the next few years, according to the Helena Educational Planning Steering Committee.
Shifts in population centers within the district, overcrowding and the need for improved and expanded facilities are some of the reasons the for the proposed changes to the district’s schools, said Kent Kultgen, superintendent of the Helena School District, during a steering committee discussion with community members at Helena High School Wednesday night.
The committee, which has been giving presentations at district schools since mid-September, will have two more discussions with community members before the end of the month and then present a comprehensive, 20-year plan to the Helena Public School Board of Trustees in January.
The committee’s list of proposals is extensive, and involves developments of some kind at virtually every school in the district.
Providing the best opportunities for all students in the district and planning for future needs is a difficult task that needs to be addressed now, Kultgen said.
“If we were planning to build a school to handle the enrollment out in the valley, it would be pretty easy, or adding a wing onto this high school, it would be easy,” Kultgen said. “But if you take a look at the whole district and start looking at things ... you’ll notice that as you do one change over here, it causes a change over here. This is what’s difficult.”
The next meeting will be in the Smith Elementary School gymnasium Monday, Nov. 12, from 6 to 8 p.m. And on Nov. 26, the committee will host a town hall meeting in the Helena Middle School auditorium.
Building a new, kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school in the North Valley may be the best way to deal with population growth in that area, said Ben Tintinger, of Helena-based Mosaic Architecture, who is helping oversee the committee’s proposals.
Many elementary and middle school students have to spend unacceptable amounts of time riding buses to and from school, said Greg Upham, assistant superintendent for Helena schools, during the presentation. A new school in the North Valley could help solve that problem, he said.
Overcrowding at C. R. Anderson Middle School and Jim Darcy Elementary are also key issues that need to be addressed, the committee said.
C. R. Anderson is the largest middle school in the state, with about 1,000 students. Ideally it’s student population should be 400-700 students, Upham said.
Space for that school’s students will have to be found elsewhere in the district, which will mean building a new school or adding on to existing schools, he said.
Jim Darcy Elementary has a capacity of 272 students and about 300 students are currently enrolled there, Tintinger said, and more than 500 children live in the area of the school.
The best solution at Jim Darcy is probably to rebuild rather than renovate the school because of its poor condition, he said.
Other proposed renovations and improvements include a multi-phase reconstruction of Helena High School, improvements to Capital High School and renovations at Vigilante Field.
The committee also found that routine maintenance and infrastructure repairs to school property in the district will cost about $60 million over the next 15 years, Kultgen said.
More information about the steering committee’s proposals and discussions can be found at www.helenaeducationalplanning.com.