In a stunning win, Billings voters approved School District 2's $122 million construction bond on Tuesday night.
Final vote counts from the Yellowstone County Elections Office show that the bond won 17,879 votes to 15,459 votes.
"In 40 years I've never been so nervous about an election," said Terry Bouck, School District 2 superintendent.
Much was riding on the bond's approval and Tuesday night's victory was anything but certain.
"It restores in me faith in this community," Bouck said. Then he added, "We’re going to deliver on our promises."
Those promises are two new middle schools and the staff to operate them, and remodeled, refurbished and renovated elementary schools, including McKinley and Broadwater.
"What a great day for Billings, Montana," said Jim Duncan, who led the Yes For Kids campaign with his wife, Heidi Duncan. "We've known all along this is a big request. This hasn't been an easy thing."
The bond is the school district's plan to cope with steadily growing enrollment, overcrowded classrooms and rapidly aging facilities.
Officials have secured property in the Heights and on the West End for the construction of two new middle schools to join the four middle schools that the district already operates. The six middle schools will house all the district's sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.
Making that move will pull sixth-graders from all the district's elementary schools, creating more space there for the younger, growing student body.
The bond also will be used to completely renovate McKinley and Broadwater elementary schools, both of which are more than a century old.
"I'm proud to be a member of this community," said Burt Reyes, principal of McKinley. "There are no words, just joy."
The plans began in earnest nearly two years ago. At the time, the SD2 board began creation of a master facilities plan, something that would inventory all of SD2's classroom space, evaluate the health of the buildings and give the district a uniform plan to care for its facilities moving into the future.
That work was hastened during summer 2012 when SD2 was called before the State Board of Public Education and censured, told its accreditation was at risk because of its high number of overcrowded elementary school classrooms.
The state mandated that SD2 find a way to reduce crowding in its classroom and it directed the district to continue with its master facilities plan.
The plan was completed this spring and it gave the district a clear path forward, calling for the construction of new schools to handle SD2's rising student population.
In August, trustees voted to place the $122 million proposal on the November ballot and use the money to build the new middle schools and refurbish or renovate most of the district's elementary schools.
The district is roughly 800 students over capacity, according to the master facilities plan. By building two new middle schools and expanding some elementary schools, the district expects to bring student numbers in line with capacity.
With the passage of the bond, the district must now wait 65 days for the vote to be certified and the protest period on the results to expire. Once that happens, they can sell their first series of bonds and begin work.
On Tuesday night, more than 100 people gathered at the Yes For Kids headquarters on Sixth Avenue North downtown. It was all nervous anticipation while waiting for results. Once it became clear that the bond was secure, the room erupted into cheers. All around the room supporters were smiling, laughing and hugging.
"This is huge," said Allen Halter, SD2 board chairman.
"This tells you, No. 1, this board picked the right guy," he said, referring to the district's hiring of Bouck last year. "And No. 2, he has a team that believes in him."