Two SD2 board members intend to reverse vote on building project

2013-03-04T23:43:00Z 2013-03-07T09:03:16Z Two SD2 board members intend to reverse vote on building projectBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Reversing Monday night's 4-3 decision to move forward in building two new middle schools and an elementary school, a pair of School District 2 trustees indicated Tuesday they wanted to change their votes.

Trustee Travis Kemp called board Chairwoman Teresa Stroebe on Tuesday and told her after thinking it through overnight “he'd had a change of heart,” she said.

Kemp, along with Connie Wardell, Pam Ellis and Lindy Graves, had voted to implement a plan that would call for construction of three new schools in the next three years, specifically a new elementary school.

By expressing his desire to change his vote, those trustees wanting to build a new elementary school sooner rather than later, would shift to the minority.

Consultants and administrators on Monday night advocated for the construction of the two new middle schools first and then the construction of a new elementary school later down the road.

That's the plan the board would likely adopt when they take up the issue for a new vote at a special March 13 meeting.

Wardell also later on Tuesday expressed her desire to Superintendent Terry Bouck to change her voter.

Following board rules, Kemp and Wardell have the option to change their vote because they had voted with the majority.

The Billings School District 2 board had voted 4-3 to build a new elementary school, two new middle schools and to update and expand Broadwater and McKinley Elementary schools.

Trustees met for more than six hours Monday night, grappling with how best to move forward to address the district's overcrowded classrooms.

Through the meeting, they narrowed their options to 10 projects that would address projected enrollment growth over the next decade and the district's aging facilities, all of which has been quantified in SD2's new master facilities plan.

The first step will be building a new elementary school on the West End, updating McKinley and Broadwater elementary schools and building two new middle schools.

The board voted in favor of moving forward with three new schools despite warnings from administrators.

"I have a problem with the sequencing," Bouck told the board. He cautioned them on the difficulties of opening three new schools in quick succession.

All 10 projects would cost $160.2 million. The first phase, which includes building the new elementary school, the new middle schools and updating McKinley and Broadwater, would be $135 million of the $160 million.

Bouck recommended the board move building the new elementary school to the second phase of projects.

Leo Hudetz, the district's chief financial officer, told the board they could afford to open and staff two new middle schools. However, the district likely wouldn't be able to afford to staff two new middle schools and a new elementary school.

When it came time to vote, a majority of the trustees chose against the administration's recommendation and instead voted to include the new elementary school with the new middle schools in the first phase of the plan.

The four trustees voting in support were Wardell, Ellis, Graves and Kemp.

Voting against it were Kathy Aragon, Greta Besch Moen and Allen Halter.

The bond will run on a single ballot as $160.2 million. The district will have three years to spend it, breaking the amount up into parts and implementing the plan in four phases.

November would be the earliest the bond would show up on a ballot for voter approval.

Leading the discussion most of the evening was Noah Greenberg with DLR Group, the architect and planning firm that led the master facilities planning process.

By the end of the night, trustees began to express frustration that what they were discussing and deciding Monday night was nearly the same as what they decided two months ago.

It was at the January meeting when the board initially decided to build a new elementary school, two new middle schools and undertake various updates.

Other trustees said they felt like the discussion helped to sharpen their views on how to move forward.

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