The School District 2 board marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day with flourish; trustees heard a speech by former Billings Mayor Chuck Tooley, approved the Heights middle school for construction and celebrated the sale of $80 million in bonds.
The building vote was unanimous and formalized a decision by the board’s planning and development committee earlier this month to build SD2’s first new middle school in the Heights.
Trustees had spent the last two months — since voters in Billings approved a $122 million construction bond in November — figuring out and then weighing the pros and cons of where to build its two new middle schools first.
Sites were secured last fall. The Heights middle school will be built at Bench and Barrett roads next to Bitterroot Elementary School. The West End middle school will go up at 56th Street West and Grand Avenue.
The Heights school is projected to be finished by August 2016. The West End middle school would be finished and open by August 2017.
At Monday night’s meeting, trustees heard from D.A. Davidson & Co., SD2’s financial advisement firm, relating to the sale of the first $80.9 million of the $122 million bond.
With the first series of bonds sold, planning and construction of the new middle schools — and the other bond projects — can begin.
The $80.9 million in bonds was sold off by D.A. Davidson last week with an interest rate one point lower than the district had planned. As a result, the bond will cost taxpayers roughly $22 million less than anticipated.
It also means individual taxpayers will pay less each year for the bond than district planners originally thought.
SD2 officials estimated bonds would sell at a 4.56 percent interest rate and a homeowner with a $200,000 house would pay about $10.95 a month in additional property tax.
However, the bonds sold with an interest rate of 3.55 percent, meaning the owner of a $200,000 home will be paying roughly $6.45 a month in additional property tax.
Along with the sale of the bonds, renovation and remodeling will begin at Broadwater and McKinley schools beginning this spring.
Officials anticipate Broadwater students will be able to stay in the school while work is being done.
At McKinley, officials expect to move about six classes of students to another location while work on the school goes forward.
With all the work starting, facilities director Lew Anderson will become the district’s bond manager to oversee and coordinate all the bond projects SD2 will be undertaking in the coming years.
His salary will come from the bond sales and the district will hire someone new to take on some of Anderson’s old duties.