By Brandon Walker EBS COMMUNITY EDITOR
BIG SKY – In anticipation of continued rising student numbers, the Big Sky community last summer proposed a project to upgrade its school buildings. The school board selected Bozeman-based A&E Architects for the design portion of the projects, and heard comments and suggestions from community members to mock-up possible future facility upgrades.
Brad Doll, a representative from the architecture firm, presented the findings and renderings his team compiled at the Jan. 21 BSSD School Board meeting. After the meeting, the board prepared ballot language, and then presented the idea of a school bond vote at its Feb. 18 board meeting.
The proposed bond includes athletic facility improvements, expanded and revised parking, and an addition off of the existing front office area for a “STEAM” building, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. That building would also house a career and technical education program, or CTE.
Local residents will receive mail-in ballots to vote on a $23.5 million bond that would fund expansion and upgrades to the current facilities. Ballots are due by May 5.
According to a BSSD informational pamphlet about the proposed bond, the STEAM and CTE offerings would bolster the district’s vocational programming by introducing classes and programs such as wood shop, video design and industrial arts.
“This lack of a CTE really is keeping us out of providing the most well-rounded, best education you can get in the state of Montana, and that’s almost exclusively tied to facilities,” said district superintendent Dustin Shipman said in a phone call with EBS. He further explained that revamping existing classroom spaces is not feasible for the intended programs, due to health and safety concerns.
Since Lone Peak High School opened its doors in 2009, the student body has increased steadily. Over the past five years alone, the student count has grown by nearly 80 percent. The growth mimics that of the Big Sky community itself, and as is the case with the town, neither the growth or the need for more space have an end in sight.
The school district’s informational pamphlet assumes a 5 percent growth rate over the next 10 years, which would mean more than 600 students in the school system by 2030, a difference of more than 200 students from the current student body. The proposed upgrades would enable BSSD to support this anticipated growth for the next 10 years or more, according to the pamphlet.
For context, there were only 23 high schoolers at LPHS 11 years ago. Now there are 107, which puts the school on the verge of moving from class-C to class-B athletics. With that new designation would come an array of required facility upgrades due to crowd capacity requirements. Per Montana High School Association guidelines, a school must have at least 108 students for two consecutive years to meet the minimum requirement as a class-B school. That means that the 2021-2022 school year would be the earliest the change could occur.
This upcoming leap to a class-B athletic program prompted the request for a new gymnasium off of the Bough-Dolan Athletic Center. The new facility would seat nearly 1,200 people, corresponding with current MHSA standards for a class-B school, whereas the Bough-Dolan Athletic Center seats only 360.
“From a community standpoint, it’s going to open up a number of different things that we can partner [with] in the community,” Shipman said. “Our current facilities, especially the gyms, are booked every night, all night, even when our extracurricular activities are finished.”
Additionally, LPHS’s soon-to-be-new fall sport, soccer, will be playing at a class-A level, and the school wouldn’t be allowed to host home contests without upgrading the current athletic fields, Shipman said. “The students are thrilled that we have a soccer program now. They’re going to be even more thrilled when we have a proper facility here on campus to play.”
If the bond proposal passes the community mail-in vote, the upgrades and expansion are intended to happen “as soon as we possibly can,” he said.