In a word, the new middle schools that School District 2 plans to build, if voters approve a multimillion-dollar bond this fall, should be flexible.
At a workshop Thursday, representatives from the design firm A&E Architects met with SD2 administrators, principals, teachers and custodians, along with community partners from the Billings Chamber of Commerce, the Boys and Girls Club, YMCA and the United Way, to discuss how the district's two new proposed middle schools should be built.
Flexibility was the quality to which the participants kept coming back.
These buildings have to last a long time, said Brian Carter, president of Integrus Architecture, which is partnering with A&E.
"That takes a lot of thinking and a lot of input from the community," he said.
The workshop focused on getting the participants to think about how middle schools are used and how best utilize the space once constructed.
In one exercise, the participants looked at photos of different buildings and school rooms and then rated their reaction to the images. Doing that helps the designers understand better what the community wants and expects from its schools.
It was productive, allowing the community to tell the designers what they want rather than the other way around, said Shaun Harrington, principal of Castle Rock Middle School.
"I thought (the workshop) was great," he said. "They're really looking for input."
And Harrington was happy to give it. Castle Rock is SD2's newest middle school, built 36 years ago. It's also the district's fullest, with more than 700 students.
Harrington emphasized flexibility, pointing out that the schools the district builds now will, in 30 years, house technology that no one's even thought about.
To make his point, he talked about how years ago he and Principal Bill Twilling spent one night with a massive drill that they used to bore holes through the school's concrete floors and the metal plating bellow it. Drilling was the only way to string cables across the school and give classrooms internet access.
"Spaces need to be flexible in order for good education to happen," he said.
The group talked also about the concerns of building two new state-of-the-art facilities while SD2's remaining four middle schools wouldn't be so new or shiny.
Superintendent Terry Bouck acknowledged the concern and said it illustrates how important it is for a school district to keep its existing schools up to date and modern.
"We have to get this community used to the modernization of our older schools," he said.
And that will require the district and its partners to separate the community from its "one bond forever mentality," he said.
Billings needs to regularly pass levies and bonds if its schools are going to thrive.
Closing the workshop, the representatives from A&E talked about what the district wants to offer in its middle schools, because it will then need to build around those offerings.
The designs that will be created by A&E will be used to give voters an idea of what the schools will be when they go to the polls in November to vote for the bond.
If voters approve the bond, A&E will then draw up actual plans for the schools.
On Monday, trustees and district officials will meet with the community at 8 a.m. in the Lincoln Center board room for a final discussion on which sites for the new schools they'll recommend to the board.