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Phase 2 construction underway at BSSD

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Crews are currently working to move utilities, earth and the existing drain field to make way for the new wing. PHOTO BY GABRIELLE GASSER

Educators call new STEAM Lab a ‘game-changer’

By Gabrielle Gasser ASSOCIATE EDITOR

BIG SKY – Construction on Phase 2 of the multimillion-dollar project to upgrade and expand the facilities and educational opportunities at the Big Sky School District has begun.

After the Big Sky community voted to pass a $23.5 million school district bond in May of 2020, Phase 1 of the project was constructed last summer, with a couple outstanding items now being built in Phase 2, and included an eight-lane track encircling a new turf field, stadium lighting, additional bleachers, and two 35,000 gallon buried fire tanks which would serve as a water source in the event of a fire. 

Work on Phase 2 began May 2 on a new parking lot, practice field, a commons remodel of spaces outside classrooms, track fencing, and a STEAM Lab, short for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics. 

Machines move earth on the site of the new south parking lot. PHOTO BY GABRIELLE GASSER

Currently, crews with Jackson Contractor Group are relocating utilities and drain fields and moving dirt for the new facility. Once that work is completed, new foundations will be poured and the new wing, which will attach to the existing school, will start to go vertical in August.

Phase 2 was originally bid in May 2021 and due to material and labor shortages, bids came in $6.7 million over budget, according to district representative Cristie Tate. The project was rebid in January 2022 in the hopes that the market would improve, Tate said. This time, bids came in $10.68 million over budget.

Factors contributing to the increased costs include supply chain issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as a manpower shortage, according to Shane Roy, project manager with Jackson Contractor Group. Lead times for steel have doubled, Roy said, taking 16 weeks instead of the typical eight.

“In general, the project is off to a good start,” Roy told EBS. “It’s been tough due to COVID … Finding people to do the right work for the right price is difficult.”

Despite these challenges, the project remains on schedule and Roy expects Phase 2 to be complete and the STEAM building occupied by August 2023. 

“It’s just going to completely expand our programming for students to have more career and technical ed offerings,” BSSD Superintendent Dustin Shipman said. “We’re going to expand our art and music facilities so students [will] have opportunities to really dive into those pathways for secondary education.” 

The new practice field being graded. PHOTO BY GABRIELLE GASSER

One teacher who will be using the new STEAM Lab, or “Innovation Center” as he likes to call it, 6-12-grade technology teacher Jeremy Harder, is excited for the new space and the opportunities it will provide.

“Now we have a safe, proper space that allows students to tap into skills and build on skills that they otherwise wouldn’t have in a traditional classroom,” Harder said.

The new space will offer wood and metal shops, potter’s wheels, crafting space, a video processing room and a music room. Harder called the STEAM Lab a “game changer” saying it will help students learn differently and cultivate lasting career skills.

He added that the space wouldn’t have been possible without the Big Sky community voting to pass the bond and that it will serve as a valuable community resource.

“It’s going to be a great opportunity for the community to access those facilities after school hours,” he said.

After the STEAM Lab is completed in 2023, the final piece of the project will be the construction of a new gym in Phase 3. According to Tate, the Phase 2 contract amount is $16.3 million and remaining funds will be made available for Phase 3 construction.

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