Floats bond issue to voters
By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor

BIG SKY – The Big Sky School District has outgrown its britches and would like to expand – to do so, it needs land, and money to build a new elementary school.

A 23-person facilities planning committee met once a month since last August, systematically addressing the issue. Taking into consideration district and community needs, as well as the school’s projected growth, the FCP determined that even with the 2009 completion of Lone Peak High School, a new elementary school is necessary.

“Look how many kids are moving into town, even at the high school level,” said FCP member Brittany Ellis, a second grade teacher who has 19 students in her classroom. “This is a place where people are seeking to move because now we have a full k-12 system.”

To realize the expansion, Supt. Jerry House has his eye on two, three-acre lots adjacent to the district’s 24-acre property, on the north side.

One of the lots, Lot C, belongs to the Scott and Traylor families, who previously acquired and donated 20 acres to the school and have now agreed to sell this lot, pending passage of a proposed $10.2 million bond, which voters will decide on May 7.

The second, Lot D, also belonged to the Scotts and Traylors, but was donated in 2004 to the Big Sky Institute, an affiliate of Montana State University that planned to build an educational facility on the site.

The Big Sky community raised more than $1 million in actual and in-kind donations for BSI, which spent most of that on operations, programming, staffing and architectural plans. When the organization cancelled the building project in 2010, the foundation still had $80,000 of related money in its accounts.

A group including House, Scott, Big Sky Resort General Manager Taylor Middleton, Big Sky School Board Chairman Loren Bough and MSU Foundation CEO Michael Stevenson went through a series of negotiations this winter, ultimately finding a compromise that Middleton calls a “win-win.”

“Once Montana State University cancelled plans for the Big Sky Institute, people in the community thought it would be the best use of that land to dedicate it toward education, which was what the institute was about,” said Middleton, a former BSI advisory board member.

Under the agreement, the district would buy Lot D from the MSU Foundation for $215,000, House said. That money plus the remaining $80,000 in BSI funds would go into an endowment housed by the foundation, from which an annual fee would be paid back to the district.

“It’s convoluted, but essentially the community gets the land back for free over time,” Bough said. “This is the transaction that puts BSI behind us.”

The proposed facility would have 12 new classrooms, expandable to 16, a full gym, a satellite kitchen and library, space for administrative and counseling offices, and a new parking lot and playground. It would also be a place to hold public meetings and community events, host recreational sports and adult education and family classes; additionally, it would give MSU access to classroom space in Big Sky.

“This is a long term solution,” said Ellis. “We’re looking at numbers 10, 15, 20 years out.” She noted that it would impact not only elementary school kids, but also middle and high schoolers by giving each age group its own space.

If the bond passes, it would cost approximately $21.25 per month for a person with a $500,000 home.

“A strong school and a strong community are hand-in-glove, they work together,” House said.

House is hosting an informational forum about the bond issue on Wednesday, April 10 at the Rotary Club meeting at Buck’s T-4 at 5:30 p.m., and an open house at the school at April 23. Involved community members will be reaching out via phone to residents to answer questions after April 22.

Ballots will be mailed to registered voters in the district on April 22, and are due to the Gallatin County Elections office by May 7.