Gazette opinion: Good signs: Schools thank voters for upgrades

2011-09-06T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: Good signs: Schools thank voters for upgrades The Billings Gazette
September 06, 2011 12:00 am

Good signs have appeared at Billings Public Schools at summer’s end. Large white signs in front of Senior High, Riverside Middle School and several elementary schools thank Billings taxpayers for upgrading the buildings.

The work is the result of a bond issue voters approved a year ago this month.

Over the summer, the first season of $12 million in planned major maintenance projects was completed:

$306,696 in new windows at Poly Drive Elementary, installed by Fisher Construction of Billings.

$196,136 in new windows at Washington, also installed by Fisher.

$308,982 in new windows at Bench, installed by Cucanic Construction of Billings.

$353,318 in new windows at Highland, also installed by Cucanic.

New fire alarm systems at Broadwater, Washington, Burlington and Miles Avenue, total cost $238,082, installed by API Systems Integrator of Billings and Kalispell.

$300,000 replacement of the gym roof at Riverside by CTI of Utah.

$800,000 for the first phase of heating, ventilation and air condition system upgrades at Senior, with General Contractors of Billings as general contractor.

The work this summer at Senior is just the beginning of major maintenance planned for School District 2’s oldest high school. Next summer, new boilers will be installed to heat the entire school, said Lew Anderson, district facilities coordinator. Including the work already completed, nearly $5 million of the bonds were slated for building maintenance at Senior.

The new energy-efficient windows replace single-panes more than 40 years old and leaking heat in winter.

The new fire alarm systems meet current life safety standards by, among other things, immediately showing firefighters the location of the alarm within the school building.

Most of the work done so far has kept the campaign promise of providing jobs for local people and businesses. With the exception of the Riverside roofing, all the contractors are in Billings, Anderson said.

The district has completed less than a quarter of the bond projects. The rest are planned for completion in the summers of 2012 and 2013.

Asked why the district didn’t yet replace 10 school roofs on the bond list, Anderson said he hopes to obtain better prices from contractors by getting on their work schedules well before the 2012 roofing season starts. The district is preparing to seek bids this fall for next summer’s building work.

Voters recognized a good deal in approving this bond issue, which will largely be repaid through the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The district may have good reasons to stretch the work over three seasons. However, we call on administration and trustees to get as much work done next year as possible. Construction business continues to be slower than before the recession. Now’s the time to stimulate the local economy while making our public school buildings better, safer, more functional places to learn.

When you drive or walk past those school “thank you” signs, be proud of your contribution as a voter and taxpayer.

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