The third in a series of community meetings centered on the master facilities plan currently under way in School District 2 focused on the educational capacity of SD2 schools.
The meeting, held Wednesday night in the Riverside Middle School library, revealed in a rough estimate that SD2's elementary arm is 984 students over capacity.
In other words, the district is currently housing 984 more students than it has room for under state law.
The capacity study is one part of the master facilities plan being conducted by Billings-based O2 Architects and the national firm DLR Group.
The facilities plan will ultimately help the district create a path showing how it can move into the future with the limited facility resources at its disposal.
One of the options studied by DLR and O2, and presented Wednesday night, was using bond money to address some of the district's capacity issues.
Using remote clickers to poll the 30 community members and SD2 staffers at the meeting, DLR officials found that most of those in the room would be open to going out for one-time, high-dollar bonds to either build onto existing school facilities or construct new buildings.
The option most popular among community members has been re-configuring the district to kindergarten through fifth-grade elementary schools and sixth-grade through eighth-grade middle schools.
The move would slightly increase classroom capacity in the elementary schools but significantly decrease the capacity in the middle schools.
By 2017, if the district moved to the K-5, 6-8 model, middle schools in the district would be housing 1,408 more students than they had room for.
If the district were to go out for bonds to cover all the construction and maintenance projects needed to bring classroom capacity down to state-mandated levels, it would need nearly $240 million.
Wrapped in the classroom capacity issue is the task of trying to balance the different needs of various student groups while keeping updates at SD2's school buildings equitable.
Space requirements for students needing specialized instruction, for example, would be more important for a school in one of the city's high-poverty areas.
The district hopes to have a draft plan it can begin taking to out to the community early in the new year. Superintendent Terry Bouck said he and his staff would visit any group that wanted a meeting.
Trustee Kathy Aragon, a longtime proponent of in-depth planning, said having a frank conversation about what the district can actually do with its buildings will be important.
"We need to critically look at — realistically — what we can fund," she said.