After some debate at a special meeting Thursday, the Helena Public Schools Board of Trustees voted to move forward with a $1.4 million renovation of two structures to serve as the district's new building and maintenance facility.
The current building and maintenance facility is located on the Bryant Elementary School campus, but it will be demolished to make room for the new school that will be built there. The district owns the two structures near Helena High School that will be renovated to serve as the new building and maintenance facility.
A $63 million bond passed in May 2017 will pay to demolish and rebuild three Helena elementary schools, including Bryant.
The board didn’t take issue with the need for the renovation project and awarded the contract to Abraham Construction. But before taking a vote, board members debated how the project should be funded.
Although the school district planned to find a new home for the maintenance facility to rebuild Bryant before the bond amount was decided, officials weren’t sure where it would be located, Superintendent Jack Copps said. Because the district was uncertain of the cost, the project wasn’t included in the $63 million total. Instead, the project will be paid for with a portion of the bond premiums, or profits made from selling the bonds.
Copps said the district has sold $55 million in bonds and received $6.1 million in premiums. The district got permission from its bond counsel to use the premiums for related projects like the maintenance facility or, if it went over budget, building the other three schools. The district also could choose to return the premiums to the taxpayers to reduce the bond debt, Copps said.
Facilities Administrator Kalli Kind said the two buildings that will be renovated are used as warehouses, and the contractor will bring the buildings up to code and adjoin them. The contractor will also add bathrooms and reconfigure the building with some office space.
Kind said she asked for a special board meeting because the contractor will be on a tight deadline. The maintenance building at Bryant is slated to be demolished in early June.
“In my opinion, this is a really good investment for a long-term solution,” she said.
Kind asked the board to approve a contingency of up to $200,000 for the cost of moving utilities and any other unexpected costs. After a motion was made to include the contingency fund, several board members said they were uncomfortable with the amount and opted to approve extra expenses when they actually occur. The motion was amended again to remove the contingency and was approved by the board.
The district is also working through other large maintenance projects. Last month the school board approved a $687,000 contract, also to Abraham Construction, to reroof Broadwater School. The roof is leaking and has structural concerns, Copps said.
“We have big beams that are now in effect holding the roof up,” Copps said.
While a project to re-roof Broadwater would typically come from the district’s building reserve fund, the account only contains $1.2 million. The district is seeking an INTERCAP loan from the state to help reduce the burden on the reserve fund. The interest rate was set at 2.5 percent on INTERCAP loans in 2017. Copps said the district will apply for a loan to cover the full cost of the new roof and then pay it back over five years.
The reroofing project will start the Monday after kids leave school and take the entire summer, Kind said.