Workers lay flooring

Construction workers lay flooring in the art room at Ben Steele Middle School in this 2017 file photo. 

Billings Public Schools will spend the last of the money raised from 2013’s $122 million bond.

School trustees signed off on spreading the final $8.4 million across elementary and middle schools for improvements like new flooring, air conditioning, and sidewalk work.

“We still have projects,” superintendent Greg Upham said. “One of the big prices of this is the equity” of facilities at different schools.

The money didn’t have to be spent. The district had the option of passing on issuing the bonds, effectively reducing taxpayers' bill.

The bond’s big ticket items were the construction of Medicine Crow and Ben Steele middle schools, plus major remodels at McKinley and Broadwater elementary schools.

About $29 million from the bond was spread across smaller projects in the district.

The money can’t be directly used to help address budget issues in the K-8 district. As a bond, it can’t be rolled into the general fund that pays for year-to-year operations. Even if it could, it would fall into the one-time money category that wouldn’t help fill budget holes in future years.

However, the work could indirectly help the budget. Staying ahead of building maintenance makes it less likely that money needs to be pulled out of the general fund for, say, a new boiler.

Castle Rock Middle School has the biggest ticket item in the final round of improvements; a project to drain and seed ground between the school and Sandstone Elementary comes in at $2 million, adding green space to be more comparable to other middle schools. 

That fits into the equity theme, district facilities director Scott Reiter said. Another example — most middle schools are slated for technical education classroom upgrades to catch up to the new Ben Steele and Medicine Crow middle schools.

The projects are still “specific to the letter of the law,” when the bond passed, Upham said. He noted that it was a state record at the time.

“That bond itself changed the course of bonds for the state of Montana.”

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