SD2 officials field questions from parents about location of new middle school

2013-12-10T19:45:00Z 2013-12-13T07:46:04Z SD2 officials field questions from parents about location of new middle schoolBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Anticipating the crowd, Superintendent Terry Bouck went with the preemptive strike. 

"I want to talk about something first that I know we'll hear tonight," he told the group. "Which school will be built first."

Officials from School District 2 were at Will James Middle School Tuesday night to hear input from about two dozen community members on the two new middle schools the district will build in the next three years. 

And while no one asked specifically which school would be built first, a few asked why the district couldn't build them concurrently. Locations for the two schools have been selected already. 

Sites were secured when voters approved a $122 million bond in November. The Heights will have a new middle school at Bench and Barrett roads next to Bitterroot Elementary School and the West End will have its middle school at 56th Street West and Grand Avenue. 

The district plans to stagger the two schools' construction by a year. The first school will finish and open in 2016, with the second following in 2017. 

District officials wanted to make sure local contractors and workers get a chance to bid and participate in the construction, Bouck said. Building the two schools concurrently would hamper that.

"There's a lot of horsepower in this town in terms of contractors," said Lew Anderson, SD2's facilities director. 

But between the various renovation and remodleing projects planned for the elementary schools and the construction of a two new schools, the district will have to pace itself a little, he said. 

Bouck explained that he wants to make sure the district can financially handle operating two new schools, with the staffing that would require. 

SD2 has a five-year plan that would put enough money into reserves to allow the district to operate both schools. Six months into the plan and the district is already ahead of schedule, Bouck said. 

Bouck also addressed concerns expressed by some that the district only ever planned to build one middle school and will use weak financials as an excuse not to construct the second middle school.

"Let me make this clear. We will open two schools," he said. 

Much of the talk from the community focused on making sure the building would be energy-efficient and environmentally friendly. 

Work began in 2010 with a handful of federal bonds to make many of SD2's schools more energy efficient. In the process, the district has saved over $3 million on its energy bills, Anderson said.

The goal will be the same for the new middle schools, he said. 

Finally, Bouck reminded those in the group that he has planned a number of meetings and events to seek out input from the community and he invited them to continue to participate in the process and to speak up. 

"Come on in and be a part of this," he said. "Be a part of it."

Officials will hold another community listening session on Wednesday night. The meeting will start at 6 p.m. at Castle Rock Middle School in the Heights. 

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