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Elder Grove breaks ground on new middle school

Officials break ground on the new Elder Grove Middle School during the ground breaking event at the site of the new school next to the current Elder Grove School on Thursday.

The dirt moved by ceremonial golden shovels at the site of Elder Grove's new middle school paled in comparison to the pile attacked by a school bus-yellow front-end loader in the background. 

Construction for the new school, funded by a bond passed in 2017, has already begun and is slated to be finished in the fall of 2020. But an official groundbreaking ceremony helped solidify that the former farm field across from the current school campus will transform into a two-story, 300-student-capacity middle school.

"That realization really hit me hard today," said Elder Grove Superintendent Nathan Schmitz. "It's been no easy process."

Voters in the K-8 school district just west of Billings passed a $14.9 million bond in December 2017 to relieve overcrowding. But the site for the school wasn't settled about six months later, and even then hiccups delayed the land purchase from becoming official. 

Schmitz thanked voters for approving the bond. He also acknowledged that changes have been made to the plan, notably cutting a part of a remodel for the school's existing campus. But he said no plans for academic areas have been changed. 

"Money talks are always tough," he said. 

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Elder Grove breaks ground on new middle school

A billboard stands in the background during the ground breaking event at the site of the new Elder Grove Middle School next to the current school campus on Thursday.

Enrollment at Elder Grove reached about 630 students last school year, a meteoric rise from 2012, when the most recent renovation expanded capacity to about 470 students. Enrollment dipped to 558 students this school year, which is still higher than the 2016-2017 school year. 

Ten-year projections show the district could hit 1,000 students.

Elder Grove breaks ground on new middle school

Children stand behind shovels during the ground breaking event at the site of the new Elder Grove Middle School next to the current school campus on Thursday.

The new building plan, which also converts the existing middle school into elementary space, is designed to accommodate that. But additional growth could again strain facilities space. 

The bond was a major ask for Elder Grove, which has a largely residential tax base. That means homeowners bear a heavy tax burden — about $194 a year in increases for the bond on a $100,000 home, by math done during the 2017 bond election. 

Elder Grove breaks ground on new middle school

Officials stand behind shovels during the ground breaking event at the site of the new Elder Grove Middle School next to the current school campus on Thursday.

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