Helena voters overwhelmingly passed a $63 million bond in May to demolish three elementary schools and build new ones in their place.
The decision to propose a bond issue to voters started with discussions about Central School, which was evacuated in 2013 due to safety concerns in case of a significant earthquake. Community members and those in favor of historic preservation wanted the school to be renovated instead of demolished, and one Helena couple filed a lawsuit that was later dismissed to halt the demolition.
After a long and controversial debate about whether to renovate or demolish, the school board decided to start from scratch. Central was demolished this summer. During the demolition process, a community event was held to open a time capsule, look at old photos and memorabilia and sell bricks from the school building. The school district saved several historic pieces of the building, including part of the arch over the entryway, to be included in the new school's design.
Jim Darcy and Bryant schools will also be demolished and rebuilt with the bond money.
The district has hosted a series of community meetings on the design and timeline of the project. Construction will start in spring 2018, and all three schools are slated to be ready for the fall 2019 school year. Design features to enhance learning include shared learning spaces, outdoor learning spaces, and natural light.
Part of the bond will go toward updating safety and security at the other elementary schools. New technology will eventually allow an administrator to lock down the entire school with the push of a button, and the central office would have the power to lock down every elementary school in the district.
Other updates include a keyless entry system, a secure vestibule at the front entrance to monitor visitors and control access, electronic reader boards to send communication directly into classrooms and a new phone system.