SD2 seeks community input on future of facilities

2011-09-19T21:30:00Z 2011-09-20T00:30:06Z SD2 seeks community input on future of facilities

By ROB ROGERS

Of The Gazette Staff

The Billings Gazette
September 19, 2011 9:30 pm  • 

Looking at the future of the city’s schools, the Billings School District 2 board is holding a community meeting Tuesday night with representatives from a design and architectural firm based in Florida.

Fielding Nair, a company that specializes in designing “creative learning communities,” will meet with the public from 6:30 to 9 p.m. in the Mansfield Health Education Center at St. Vincent Healthcare.

No agenda

“We’re passionate about schools,” said Prakash Nair, the company’s president. “We have no agenda.”

The idea, he said, is to hear from members of the community — both parents who have children in school and residents of the city — and have them explain what they want their schools to be.

Every city and every school district is different and should reflect the needs of its community, Nair said.

“Our hope is get people excited about the process,” he said.

As a result, people need to show up and speak their mind, he said.

“It’ll be customized to Billings,” said Barbara Bryan, board chairwoman.

Fielding Nair works with companies and school districts worldwide — everyone from Microsoft Corp. in Redmond, Wash. to the Ministry of Education in New Zealand.

With such a wide and far-reaching customer base, some SD2 trustees expressed concerns about whether Fielding Nair was appropriate for Billings.

Phil Long, superintendent of Medford Public Schools in Medford, Ore., said his district hired the company two years ago to help remodel two of its schools built in 1912.

“They did a remarkable job,” he said.

Easy solution

The two schools were in poorer parts of town and were shut down in 2009 because of faults in the masonry. Long said the easiest solution was just to close the schools altogether.

“We almost didn’t replace those schools,” he said.

But the neighbors wouldn’t have it, and then a local architecture firm suggested that the school district look into Fielding Nair.

“To be honest, I was skeptical at first,” Long said.

But the company worked with the community and developed a plan, and the district passed a $26 million bond to pay for the upgrades and remodeling of the two schools. They opened last year.

“It worked really well,” he said.

So far, SD2 has paid $50,000 to Fielding Nair for this first step of the process. Nair said if the community says it doesn’t want any changes to its school or the district decides against it, the planning stops here.

Bryan hopes the community will attend to see what Fielding Nair can do and see some of the potential in Billings schools.

“It’s going to be very eye-opening for the community,” she said.

If the process continues, the school district would implement the planned changes to one or two pilot schools to see how well the changes fit and work into the school system.

To do that, the district would have to come up with significant amounts money. Bryan said if changes are to be made districtwide, a bond would probably have to be run.

The Fielding Nair representatives have been meeting with teachers, small groups of community members and business leaders most of the week.

The hope is to gather as much information as possible to create designs that meet the needs of Billings.

“We have no idea how Billings works,” Nair said. “That’s why we’re here.”

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or 657-1231.

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or 657-1231.

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