Huntley Project voters approve school bond

2009-09-01T21:05:00Z Huntley Project voters approve school bondBECKY SHAY Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
September 01, 2009 9:05 pm  • 

The Huntley Project school district will have a new combined junior high and high school.

Voters today approved a $9.75 million bond request, 977 to 523.

Yellowstone County Elections Administrator Duane Winslow announced "it has passed" shortly after 8 p.m. There are still 22 ballots to count - they were dropped off at the courthouse and Worden - but they won't be enough to change the outcome of the vote.

Superintendent Wes Coy and Business Manager Rita Huck immediately pulled out cell phones and started notifying trustees.

"I got good news for you," Coy told trustees chairman Mark Fox.

Huck told trustee Larry Peabody, "We can move forward." After hanging up, Huck exhaled and grinned: "Gosh, what a sigh of relief," she said.

The district will have to wait for a few weeks in case of a protest on the sale of the bonds, but then work will begin to move quickly, Coy said. District officials will notify the state Wednesday that they will accept interest-free Qualified School Construction Bonds which will save taxpayers nearly $5.1 million during the life of the bonds.

Coy called the vote a "resounding victory," and added, "I feel bad that many people didn't agree."

Whether people voted for or against the bonds is now history, and it is important that regardless of a yes or no vote, residents look to the future with the district, he said.

"We're a community. We're all a part of this," Coy said. "This is the direction we're going."

Coy said it is possible that concrete work on the pad and foundation could start by late September. Some of the early work will include capping a sewer line that ran directly under the old high school and rerouting it.

The board and the district's consultants have been "walking a fine line" to move forward with plans but not too far in case voters rejected funding, Coy said.

"Not all, but a good portion of that work would have gone for naught, or had to be redone, had this not passed," he said.

District leaders, residents, staff, students and consultants have spent months honing the plans for the new school. The plan is for an about 90,000-square-foot building that will house the junior high and high school in separate two-story wings. The school also has a gymnasium and a commons area which is where all students will each their meals.

If it were not replaced, the 70-year-old junior high would require up to $5 million in work to bring it up to modern codes for life-safety and accessibility. Trustees are considering the alternatives for what to do with the building, Coy said.

Now, work can begin in earnest to outline details and complete the final tweaking of the design.

An insurance settlement is expected to pay around $7 million toward replacement construction. The bonds the voters approved today will pay the difference to build the new building on the site of the demolished high school.

The district has been receiving insurance payments to cover the cost of ongoing temporary expenses including buildings. The trailers were brought in within days of the fire and set up as a temporary campus. Although the insurance company has not given a cut-off date, the expense payments are finite, district leaders have said.

The costs include continuing monthly rent on the trailers, a lease payment each quarter on the temporary gymnasium and the cost of security. Temporary expenses continue to arise, Huck said. Some of these costs include shower trailers that are being set up near the gym and the addition this school year of another trailer that was converted into a science lab.

There are about 240 high school and around 100 junior high students using the temporary school rooms and the junior high for classes. Total enrollment is around 720, an increase of 23 kids compared to last year, Coy said.

The former high school, which was destroyed by arson fire Sept. 18, 2008, has been demolished. All that remains fenced off at the site is a hole - where an underground fuel storage tank was removed. The state will inspect the area to ensure there is no contamination before the hole is filled.

Trustees will meet tomorrow to certify the election results.

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