By Bay StephensEBS Staff Writer
BIG SKY – The Big Sky School District Board of Trustees continues to investigate the feasibility of partnering with Habitat for Humanity to build two triplexes on school property to provide housing for district faculty and staff.
At the Jan. 13 BSSD board meeting, Chair Loren Bough emphasized that the board is in the “feasibility process” of determining whether building six units on school property is possible in terms of permitting and financing. If the board gains full assurance that it can build the housing and ascertain the exact cost, it would then bring the proposal to the community to ask for general approval as well as financial and volunteer support since it’s an attempt by the school to address a wider community need, said BSSD Superintendent Dustin Shipman.
Depending on permitting and financing, groundbreaking could take place this spring with construction wrapping up in October, according to David Magistrelli, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Gallatin Valley.
“We think that’s feasible,” Magistrelli told the board on Jan. 13.
Housing for teachers has been a perennial challenge in Big Sky, such that on two occasions Anne Marie Mistretta, BSSD superintendent from 2005-2010, put up teachers in her own home, according to a March 2017 EBS story on the “Penny for Housing” bill shut down at the state Senate.
Shipman has expressed the challenges of recruiting and retaining teachers in the face of the housing that is not only expensive, but scarce. He said there is a three to five year “shelf life” for the teachers commuting from Bozeman or Belgrade before they leave the Big Sky school system.
“They just start to seek employment closer to home,” Shipman said. “And every school in Gallatin County is growing, so there’s a lot of opportunity. The board is laser focused on helping with this [issue],” Shipman said, “and if this [project] doesn’t work out we’ll go back to the drawing board.”
Shipman met with Laura Seyfang, program director of the Human Resource and Development’s Big Sky Community Housing Trust, and with Magistrelli in October to discuss options for a partnership between district and Habitat. Seyfang, who has worked with Habitat for Humanity in the past, said she approached Shipman with the idea for the housing project when she heard the school had its own land, a scarce resource that has made it difficult for the humanitarian organization to build in Big Sky.
According to Shipman, the school district owns approximately 28 acres and is considering locations for the triplexes south of the high school, off Beaver Creek Road near the school’s tennis courts.
Unlike other developments Habitat for Humanity builds, the organization would not own this project, but would instead facilitate the construction process to provide housing owned by the school district. The district would then rent to teachers, although it hasn’t gone through the process of deciding who would live in the units and how much rent would be, Shipman said.
Shipman said a price range for the project is unknown at this point because all the project’s permitting and construction variables must first be determined. However, by virtue of working with Habitat for Humanity, building the units would be significantly cheaper than market price, he said. Shipman added that the district hopes to have the total project cost determined by the Feb. 21 school board meeting.
At a Nov. 12 board meeting, the board agreed to invest $2,000 for Habitat for Humanity to draft a memorandum of understanding and move forward in determining what a housing project on school property might entail. Habitat also received an anonymous $5,000 restricted donation designated specifically for BSSD’s project.
With the combined $7,000, Habitat for Humanity has hired ThinkOne Architecture, which is developing interior renderings for the school board to review, and Allied Engineering, which conducted a geotechnical analysis of the potential site on Jan. 16 to determine the appropriate type of foundation.
Magistrelli will meet with the county planning department on Jan. 24 in hopes of learning what type of permitting the project would require, whether there are restrictions concerning connecting the units to Beaver Creek Road, and what water and sewer adjustments the project would need.