Schools to see improvements from bond election as early as next summer

2010-09-08T18:24:00Z 2010-09-08T18:28:30Z Schools to see improvements from bond election as early as next summerROB ROGERS Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
September 08, 2010 6:24 pm  • 

Billings School District 2 has three years to spend the $12 million it secured when voters approved a pair of federal bonds on Tuesday.

Many of the projects — which include roof, window, boiler and fire alarm upgrades at 20 schools — won’t start until next summer at the soonest.

“We need to get the election certified,” said Superintendent Keith Beeman. Following that, the district will “start looking at the optimum time for selling bonds.”

A bond is a form of borrowing that involves the school district selling, in this case, $12 million worth of bonds to a lending organization that the district then pays back with funds collected from the increased property tax.

Once the first series of bonds is sold, the district will decide which projects to start and go out to bid. SD2 is required to follow the state statute for bidding on construction projects, a process open to any contractor. But historically, district bids almost always have been awarded to local or state contractors.

Many of the projects, like window and roof replacement will have to be done when school is out to minimize the impact on students and to take advantage of good weather, Beeman said.

The 70-year-old boiler at Senior High, the last of three to be replaced, is used heavily in the winter to heat the school and so ideally it would need to be replaced during the summer, as well.

“By this summer people are going to start seeing progress,” he said.

After that, the construction and update projects would continue until all have been completed.

“It may not take three years,” Beeman said. “But it’s not going to be done in one summer.”

Barbara Bryan, board chairwoman, said she expects the district will move fairly quickly once all parts are in place.

“I expect the projects will start fairly soon,” she said.

It’s something they feel voters are eager to see. Voter turnout for this election was 45 percent, down from the 53 percent that turned out for the mill levy and school trustee elections in May.

Still, it was enough to give the district the results it had hoped for. The two bonds were approved with nearly 62 percent of the vote. In May, the rate of approval was closer to 52 percent. The high school technology levy after a recount ended up passing with only 10 votes.

Traditionally, turnout for school elections is lowest on the South Side and on the east side of the Heights. Tuesday proved to be no different — turnout on the South Side was 32.6 percent and turnout on the east side of the Heights was 36.9 percent.

Turnout was highest on the West End and in midtown. The area northwest of downtown just below the Rims saw turnout at 55.4 percent. Turnout for the midtown area around 24th Street West was 51.5 percent and turnout for the West End was 50 percent.

Most telling were the vote totals. In May, each of the three mill levies was voted down by South Side residents in significant numbers. But in Tuesday’s election, every section of the city, including the South Side, cast more yes votes than no for the bonds.

 

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

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