Lockwood's historic first step at creating a new high school turned out to be a leap forward. 

The first of two required votes to create a new high school for the current K-8 school district passed by more than a 2-to-1 margin Tuesday night, with more than 2,000 votes cast. 

The vote doesn't have any building or operation costs for a new high school attached. Those will be included in a second vote that must be approved within two years of the passage of Tuesday's vote.

"We were cautiously optimistic," said Chad Hanson, who leads an advocacy group for the high school. "68 (percent yes) is unreal."

Elementary-only school districts in Montana weren’t allowed to create a high school until a new law passed this spring, letting elementary districts with more than 1,000 students vote to break away from the high school district their students funnel into.

The school district needs to complete architectural and financial work to project costs for the new district for the second vote. It could pass an automatic transitional levy to pay for the work, but Lockwood plans to pay out of already existing school funds, Hanson previously said.

School board chair Tim Sather said the district plans to hire an architect to begin planning as soon as possible, with the possibility of having the second vote ready for a May ballot.

"We're looking to see if that's something that can work," he said. The board plans to discuss it at their upcoming Tuesday meeting.

Hansen said that the community group would readily support a swift second vote.

"If they do, we will be out there campaigning for it," he said. 

The prospect of a split could complicate School District 2 planning. Billings aims to update a facilities master plan and demographic study and enrollment forecast this school year, evaluating how best to use staff and buildings.

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