Community gathers for second round of SD2 planning meetings

2012-10-16T22:30:00Z 2012-10-17T10:31:44Z Community gathers for second round of SD2 planning meetingsBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Many of the buildings in School District 2 scored low on physical-facility tests performed by the assessment firm hired to evaluate each of the district's schools.

Those scores were shared for the first time at community meetings held Tuesday night at Castle Rock Middle School.

Back-to-back meetings focused on the viability of SD2's current setup and the physical health of its schools. It was the second in series of workshops being put on by DLR Group, the company hired by SD2 to perform a districtwide master facilities plan.

The tests DLR used factored in dozens of metrics to score the school — everything from safety and security features to the condition of roofs and heating systems to amenities like closet space and classroom acoustics.

Scoring highest in physical health and conditions conducive to education was Orchard Elementary, one of the last schools to receive a serious facilities upgrade by the district in the mid-2000s.

Out of a possible 100, Orchard scored 91.8 on physical health and 86.9 educational conditions.

At the bottom for physical health was Miles Avenue Elementary, with a score of 50.3. For educational conditions, McKinley Elementary — the district's oldest school built in 1906 — scored lowest with 52.3.

Rimrock Elementary, which has been closed and empty for the past few years, was also evaluated. It scored lower than McKinley in educational conditions with a 43.1.

Scores and in-depth descriptions of the conditions at each school will be available in the coming weeks on the district's website.

"It just reiterates what we as parents already know about the dire needs of our schools," said parent Lindsay McGimpsey, one of about 50 people who attended the first meeting Tuesday night.

At the meeting, parents, community members and school district staff voiced an increased desire to see SD2 move to a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school model. 

DLR presented the room with four possible options for moving the school district forward and divided those in attendance into small groups to discuss those options. 

Listed, the options included moving SD2 to a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school model, staying with the current configuration, implementing a sister-schools model or switching to a K-8 configuration.

As the small groups reported on their discussions, most felt that SD2 would benefit by moving to the 6-8 middle school model and building a new middle school to facilitate the change.

Nearly all of them acknowledged that building a new school would be a tough sell for Billings, which has had a spotty record of supporting mill levies.

However, the city over the last two years has passed two federal multimillion-dollar bonds designed specifically for school building improvements.

Listening to the talk among the parents, community members and SD2 staff gathered, SD2 Trustee Pam Ellis said she felt encouraged by what she heard.

"We're off to a good beginning," she said. "The discussion, I thought, was good and thoughtful."

McGimpsey she left the meeting feeling optimistic in a way. The conditions in the district are so dire now, she said, SD2 has no choice but to make improvements.

"There's so much improvement that needs to happen," she said. "I think positive change has to happen. We have to do something."

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