SD2 leaders and community partners gather to discuss picking the best school sites

2013-06-11T18:00:00Z 2013-06-19T13:58:04Z SD2 leaders and community partners gather to discuss picking the best school sitesBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

The consensus was pretty clear after a daylong workshop on school site selection Tuesday.

Build where the kids are and make sure city services are available. Also make sure it’s easily accessible and that students can walk or bike there.

After seven hours of discussion, planning and presentations, leaders within the community and within SD2 settled on the top criteria for the school board selecting sites for the two new middle schools it plans to build.

Representatives from city and county planning, parks and recreation, housing authority, community health and transportation met with SD2 officials for an all-day planning workshop put on by the Georgia Conservancy.

Workshop focus

The workshop focused on how to best select a site for new schools and how to best work with the community to do it.

“It was a great discussion,” said Superintendent Terry Bouck.

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 currently 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.

Selection by July 15

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 — and 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.

In a presentation to the workshop group, demographer Jerry McKibben said 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 said the planned expansions to McKinely and Broadwater would accommodate growth in the downtown area.

Before he sat down, he said he wanted to address the rumblings and rumors he keeps hearing about SD2 closing schools.

“The last thing this school district will be doing in the next 10 years is closing schools,” he said. “You’re gonna need every scrap of space.”

He called the persistent idea that building new schools will mean closing old schools “ludicrous.”

Between 2010 and 2012, SD2 grew by 625 students in the elementary school district.

District enrollment, which currently sits around 16,000, is expected to grow 17,600 students in the next decade before leveling out, according to McKibben’s study.

“You’re going to need every square foot you have,” he said.

The district next will hold a pair of community meetings to seek feedback from parents and residents next week.

On June 19, SD2 leaders will hold a public meeting at Sandstone Elementary in the Heights to seek feedback on the school site selection process.

On June 20, they’ll hold another meeting at Boulder Elementary on the West End.

Both meetings will run from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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