After months of conceptual talks, a proposed Lockwood High School may have a price tag — or at least a ballpark estimate.
The most expensive of three options presented at a community meeting Wednesday night easily won an informal poll.
It carried an initial price tag of $50.4 million, but after no small amount of heartburn over the $50 million barrier, the price was adjusted down to $49 million.
That'll require tweaks, and what kind of bang Lockwood can get for its buck was the theme of the night.
Trustees are hoping to set a figure for May's election at a tentatively scheduled meeting on Feb. 26. They hold the final bond authority.
Lockwood is currently a K-8 school district whose students attend Billings high schools. A law passed last spring opened the door for Lockwood to form a K-12 district. It requires a conceptual vote, which Lockwood passed in November, then a second vote with bond costs for building a high school within two years of the first vote.
Trustees have set a breakneck pace for the vote, aiming for the May 9 ballot. So far, their decisions have considered input from a series of community meetings like Wednesday's.
A previous meeting pointed to a high school on the district's existing campus as the preferred option.
Jeff Kanning, a partner with Collaborative Design Architects, dubbed the options "small, medium and large."
The group was subdued during the presentation of two earlier options, at $44.1 million and $47.6 million. Both options included things like a smaller gymnasium and football stadium, while the cheapest option cut school capacity from 700 to 600.
All of the options included a certain amount of set costs, like a 10-percent contingency, site costs, road work, and furnishings and equipment.
Kanning said that planners worked with square footage costs similar to those used at Ben Steele Middle School, which opened on Billings' West End this school year.
The most popular option calls for a 700-student high school with an auditorium, three stories of academic wings, a library, a vocational education building, a primary and auxiliary gymnasium, a football and track and field stadium and more than 700 parking slots. The main gym would have seating for more than 3,000 people, well beyond capacity in Billings high school gymnasiums.
The school would be built directly to the east of the existing middle school. An expansive parking lot would sit east of the elementary complex, and an athletic stadium would occupy the far east area of school land.
"Every piece of this comes with a cost," Kanning said.
"I think the building is where we need to focus," said Chad Hanson, who leads a pro-high school advocacy group. "And maybe you give up some of that other stuff that's more easily expanded in the future."
Peter Freivalds, a Lockwood resident who's been active in several civic groups, advocated for a focus on academic facilities.
"If something has to go, let's get a smaller gym," he said. "The education, the vo-tech, that's what we need."
Lockwood superintendent Tobin Novasio said that he believes robust athletic facilities would attract athletic tournaments that could help funnel money toward Lockwood businesses.
The presentation also included calculations for what a bond would cost taxpayers.
A $50 million bond would cost $194.62 per year in taxes on a $100,000 home. At $40 million, the additional taxes drop to $151.16 per year on a $100,000 home.
"It isn't a huge percentage difference. I hate saying it that way," Novasio said.
"There was sticker shock on my part when we started talking about mills. Even though that number is scary as heck to me... that's kind of the going rate," he said, citing recent bond passages in Elder Grove and Bozeman.
There was plenty of conversation about what kind of figure voters would accept.
"If we can't sell this to the rest of the community, which turned down multiple bond issues before, we're not going to get the high school," Freivalds said.