Planning committee explores the possibilities

By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor

BIG SKY – Seven seniors graduated from Lone Peak High School last year, and 27 new kindergarten students entered Ophir School this fall.

The Big Sky School District is growing, and it needs more classroom space, says Superintendent Jerry House.

Mr. Harder’s fourth grade class has 29 kids this year – too many for one classroom, if you ask House. “For Harder to walk through the classroom sideways because there’s so many [desks] in there, that’s not ideal,” House said.

In total, 242 kids are enrolled in the Big Sky School District – up 30 from last year. That number is projected to grow to 270 within two years.

“It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out we need more classrooms,” House said.

In light of this, the school board created a facilities planning committee to look into the possibility of constructing a new building on the school grounds for preschool through fourth grade. The committee’s 24 members represent “all walks” of Big Sky life, House said.

“As a committee, we’re saying, ‘What do we need?’” House said. “It’s a true citizens’ committee to help us understand what the community views as important.”

The planning committee has met three times this fall to look at the district’s policies and procedures for proposing a new facility; timelines; budgeting; and conceptual architectural ideas.

House and an architect from the Bozeman firm Prugh and Lenon, have also met with the district’s k-5 staff twice, asking the teachers what they’d like to see in a potential new facility. House presented a draft outline of their findings at the Oct. 20 planning committee meeting. The group will continue to discuss the proposal and trim the excess, House said.

Working with the architect, the committee has also created a map of the school grounds and its adjacent property, with several suggested sites for the facility.

To fund the plan, the district will ask residents to pass a bond via mail-in ballot this spring.

“Everything is transparent,” House said. “When we go to a bond, the committee [will be] well informed, and they will have shared [that information] with neighbors, relatives and other businesses.”

House, who’s been involved with a number of school construction projects in other districts, says it takes eight to 14 months to design a building like this, and another year to construct it, so the earliest it could open would be the 2014-2015 school year.

The facilities planning committee meetings are open to the public. The next one will be Nov. 20 at 6:30 p.m. at the Big Sky Community Library.