SD2 hears community feedback on where new schools should be built

2013-06-19T21:00:00Z 2014-03-18T10:49:31Z SD2 hears community feedback on where new schools should be builtBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Community members gathered at Sandstone Elementary School on Wednesday night and questioned school district leaders about growth and where best to build new middle schools. 

Much of the discussion focused on population growth in the Heights, where students will be living in the next decade and where to build a middle school to best serve them.

"I'm glad I came," said Claire Yenish, a parent in the district whose daughter will attend Castle Rock Middle School this fall. Castle Rock is the district's largest and fullest middle school. 

The meeting was attended by about two dozen people, many of them parents. However, developers and real estate agents were in attendance as well. 

Developer Tom Llewellyn chastised the district for not involving more developers in its school site selection process.

"The builders, the developers decide where the growth is going to be," he told them. 

Lew Anderson, SD2's facilities director, and Superintendent Terry Bouck took turns answering Llewellyn's questions and addressing his concerns.

They both reminded him of the number of meetings the district has held over the past year to solicit public feedback and the experts it has hired to make sure the plans are right.

Later this week, the district will launch an online survey on its website to gain feedback on its school site selection process and to find out what the community wants. 

Bouck and Anderson will hold another community meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Boulder Elementary School to discuss the district's school site selection process. 

The district is seeking a multimillion-dollar bond from voters this fall to build two new middle schools, renovate McKinley and Broadwater elementary schools and catch up on deferred maintenance at other elementary schools.

The district’s recently completed master facilities plan calls for the construction of new schools to handle SD2’s rising student population.

The plan was commissioned by SD2 and overseen by Billings-based O2 Architects and national design firm DLR Group. It shows that the elementary district is nearly 800 students over capacity.

In other words, the district is housing 800 more students than it has room for under state regulations.

To address the space shortage and its overcrowded classrooms, the district successfully sought a $1 million mill levy last month that will be used to hire about 20 additional teachers.

And then this fall, the district will seek a bond from voters of more than $100 million to build the new middle schools, do the renovations at McKinley, Broadwater and update the other elementary schools in the district.

Trustees hope to have the sites for the new schools selected by July 15 so that voters will know where the new middle schools will be when they vote on the bonds in November.

Following population models and growth predictions calculated by McKibben Demographic Research out of South Carolina -- also part of the master facilities plan -- the district will look for available sites in the Heights and on the West End.

Both areas are seeing concentrated, steady growth.

Demographer Jerry McKibben told the district he would place one middle school in the northeast corner of the Heights and the other within a mile radius of the property SD2 owns at 56th and Grand on the West End.

He told SD2 leaders that the planned expansions to McKinely and Broadwater would accommodate growth in the downtown area.

Parent Sherry Ross, who has attended the majority of the district's community meetings on growth and planning, is pleased SD2 is working to address its overcrowding, something she considers a big issue. 

"We don't have a choice but to have new schools," she said. 

Ross and Yenish believe in Billings and want it to continue to be the family-friendly, welcoming community it has the reputation of being. They said good schools are vital to that. 

"I want people to want to live here," Ross said. 

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