By Brandon Walker EBS LOCAL EDITOR
BIG SKY – Among the many important votes that will take place in Big Sky on May 5 is the Big Sky School District bond vote—slated to potentially foot the bill for a multitude of upgrades and expansions to the school’s facilities.
The $23.5 million bond is intended to fund increases in educational opportunities—for subjects such as science, engineering and the arts—as well as athletic facility upgrades, additional adult education courses, increased community use and improved student safety with more parking options. The five goals are outlined in an informational pamphlet published by the school district.
“The biggest opportunity presented by the bond is to increase our vocational offerings,” BSSD School Board Chairman Loren Bough said. “…I think that’s a category of services that the larger school districts offer in Montana and I think we have demand for it here in this community.”
BSSD Superintendent Dustin Shipman said the addition of classrooms and common spaces would allow for a broader range of learning opportunities and settings, not only for students but community members as well. The addition would be tacked onto the existing Lone Peak High School building, outside of the Big Sky Community Library.
Bough detailed that he hasn’t fielded many questions or concerns from the community as the vote draws near. Of those that he has received, the theme reflects the financial fears imposed by COVID-19 and its proverbial impacts.
“In this situation with the shutdown of businesses, we’re very sensitive to the fact that we need to be prudent with taxpayer money,” Bough said. “…I think the flipside of that coin is everyone’s realized how much they love this place and that when they do have to make some financial commitments it should be for the things that really matter, and it appears that education really matters in our community.”
The bond will impact taxpayers differently, dependent on the value of their home. For example, as described in the pamphlet, for homeowners whose home is valued at $500,000, the yearly increase in taxes will be just shy of $333, or a little less than $28 per month.
With a student body—currently over 380 students—showing an upward trend for at least the last half decade, according to the pamphlet, the possible corresponding renovations and expansions will create more space as the student count continues to rise.
In fact, even amidst the pandemic, the BSSD is currently seeing an increase in inquiries from families of prospective students, according to Bough and Superintendent Dustin Shipman.
Additionally, with the anticipated growing student population will come a jump from a Class C to Class B designation. This will have the greatest impact on the school district’s athletic programs.
Bough described that BSSD polled other Class B schools and found that typical crowd sizes would exceed the Bough-Dolan Athletic Complex’s carrying capacity. The facility upgrades, including a new gymnasium and revamped track and field course, would help meet said crowd capacities.
“We’d have an issue finding seats for the [visiting] spectators and for our own spectators in our current facility. Secondly, Class B football we’d move to a larger field and we’re also wanting to offer soccer,” Bough said describing the sport’s popularity within the community. “…We’ll be the first Class C school in Montana to put a team forward to play in the Class A league, and that’s really a reflection of how many kids we have playing the sport.”
A contractor has not been identified for the facility improvements and will not be selected unless the vote passes. If passed, BSSD will seek bids for the renovations and proceed from there.
The mail-in ballots will be sent to voters on April 17 and are recommended to be returned by April 28 to allow time for shipping.
Additional information regarding the bond can be found on the BSSD website.