By late Tuesday morning, the annex building at McKinley Elementary School was little more than heaps of rubble and a few support beams, marking the next step in a major renovation of the 100-plus-year-old school.

Heavy equipment began tearing away at one-story annex's walls, roof and ceiling on Monday and Billings School District 2 officials hope that the demolition phase of the $13-million renovation will be wrapped up by Friday.

"We're trying to keep as much of the historical value as we can," said Lew Anderson, SD2's bond project manager. "You're keeping a building that has significant historical value in the community."

In addition to demolishing the decades-old annex, crews are renovating the original school building's interior and exterior and will eventually build a new, three-story addition with six new classrooms and a new gymnasium in place of the old annex.

Those efforts are well under way, as crews began work at McKinley, 820 N. 31st St., in early June. They had to dedicate two weeks to asbestos abatement and have spent the last three weeks painstakingly removing the grout from between the school's exterior bricks.

"The bricks are fine but the grout needs to be replaced," Anderson said. "The restoration on the outside has been a big deal."

Similar work — also to the tune of about $13 million — is being done at Broadwater Elementary, at 415 Broadwater Ave. Crews have been working over the same time frame to renovate the aging building but won't knock down that school's annex until the summer of 2015.

Once that annex is knocked down, a new one to match Broadwater will be built in its place.

At McKinley, some of the work will involve leveling out the original building's basement, which was never intended to be used as an educational space but was re-purposed as enrollment swelled.

"We have over 15 different elevations in the basement alone," Anderson said.

While crews will work on the renovation during the school, some of the work on the building's upper two floors must be ready for students to use when classes start.

"This has to be ready for kids upstairs by August," said SD2 Supt. Terry Bouck.

However, SD2 already has a plan in place to send the third, fourth and fifth grade classes — about 175 students, or half the school's population — to the Lincoln Center, 415 N. 30th St., for the 2014-2015 school year.

Brenda Koch, SD2 's K-12 executive director, said that classrooms on the building's third floor will be used for McKinley students and that the adult education courses and other services there previously have been shuffled throughout the building to accomodate.

"They understoond the urgency and the necessity of meeting a good educational environment for these kids," she said. "We didn't have the options available, so the Lincoln Center was the only option for us. We were able to make it work."

Students will be dropped off by their parents at McKinley each morning and then bussed to and from the Lincoln Center due to a lack of parking, high traffic and less drop-off space, Koch said.

McKinley's principal and school counselor will each spend half of their day at each building to ensure that one of them is always available to students at both. The students attending the Lincoln Center will also be able to use the new Billings Public Library for their regularly scheduled library hours.

"Everyone has just been fabulous in pulling all of this together," Koch said.

The work on both schools is being paid for with a voter-approved $122 million bond in November of 2013 that will also pay for remodels at most of SD2's elementary schools and to build a pair of new middle schools.

The McKinley and Broadwater projects are expected to finish by the end of the summer of 2015 and will increase the capacity of each school to about 400 students.

Hardy and Dick Anderson construction firms are general contractors for the two projects and Ander said that 90 percent of the companies hired to work on them are local.


Health and medical reporter for The Billings Gazette

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