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Building options go to East Helena School Board for next steps, bond proposal at least 10 months off

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Constructing a new school or building additions on two existing schools were the two options put on the table at the East Helena School District Board of Trustees at its Monday night board meeting.

“We will mull over your recommendations,” board president Scott Walter told the Long Term Infrastructure Committee members, while thanking them for their months of work.

The next step is for the school board infrastructure committee to thoroughly examine the options before bringing back a proposal to the full board, he said.

School superintendent Ron Whitmoyer said the board needs to develop an action plan to take the next steps.

“I can’t see a bond issue by November,” he said, although that had been an initial target when discussions were launched last fall.

It may be 10 or 11 months before there is a ballot proposal, he said.

The district has been working on a facilities proposal with Slate Architecture since Oct. 26, 2015, and held a series of community meetings to work through 12 proposed options.

The district could will likely reach its enrollment capacity of 1,300 students in the next three years, with a projected increase of 30 students per year.

The facilities options proposed include:

Building additions to Eastgate Elementary and East Valley Middle School, with the fifth grade moving to EVMS; or building a new school with either of the following scenarios:

  • Eastgate would be Pre-K-2; the new school would also be Pre-K-2; Radley would be third-fifth grade; EVMS, grades six-eight; or
  • Eastgate would be Pre-K-K; new school would be first-second grades; Radley, third-fifth grades; and EVMS, sixth-eighth grades.

The rough costs presented were $400,000 for an Eastgate addition and $190,000 for an EVMS addition for a total of $590,000 in additions or $1.4 million for a new building.

Either option is meant to meet the district’s needs for the next 15 to 20 years.

The school district is in the process of acquiring a potential building site for a new school, Dartman Field, which is a 50-acre parcel contiguous to Radley School property.

The Montana Environmental Trust Group is donating the land, which is contaminated with lead from historic smelting operations, and will require remediation.

Although the land is being donated, the district will be paying $90,000 to cover legal, technical, managerial and third-party costs.

The purchase and sale agreement is still in progress, reported Whitmoyer. It is expected to be completed sometime this summer.

The school district has been working with Olympus Technical Services on a remediation plan and applying for a grant to pay for the work.

In other matters, Whitmoyer reported that he is trying to set up a planning meeting with Helena School Board President Aidan Myhre, interim superintendent Jack Copps, Walter and himself so that the two boards can hold a joint meeting by the end of July or August, which would follow up on their May 2 joint board meeting.

Whitmoyer also reported that the district’s students had performed well on the Smarter Balance assessment test in March.

“There were some nice increases over last year,” he said.

Testing for all grades showed that more than 50 percent of the students were testing above grade level or proficient, he said.

Several grades showed a marked improvement in test scores with a 25 percent increase in fourth grade English/language arts scores from 2015 to 2016, and a 24 percent increase for eighth graders.

Part of this was credited to reading/language arts curriculum changes and the students’ greater familiarity with the test, which is administered by computer rather than previous paper and pencil tests.

Whitmoyer also reported that by next year, all the district’s students K-8 will each have an iPad or Chromebook to work on.

Dan Rispens, EVMS principal and director of the school district’s summer program, reported that the program enrollment is at 120 students.

Reporter Marga Lincoln can be reached at 447-4083 marga.lincoln@helenair.com

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