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School District to bring bond to taxpayers

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The proposed indoor athletic facility beside Lone Peak High School would triple seating capacity and feature an indoor walking track on its perimeter. COURTESY OF BSSD

Phase three of the Big Sky School District’s master facility plan requires $19.85 million to add a second, larger gymnasium 

By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER 

The Big Sky School District will hold a series of presentations around adding $19.85 million of debt over the 17 years remaining on its current school bond in order to complete the final phase of its master facilities plan.  

Phases one and two included the multipurpose turf field and track, and the science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (S.T.E.A.M.) laboratory. Phase three aims to bring indoor athletic facilities up to the standards of Montana Class B—the school-size athletic division which Lone Peak High School will join after this school year.  

District Superintendent Dustin Shipman hopes district taxpayers—the Gallatin County side of Big Sky—will learn about the bond by attending one of four sessions: March 22, 6:30 p.m. at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center; March 29, 6:30 p.m. at Ophir Elementary School Library; April 5, 6:45 p.m. at BASE; and April 19, 6:30 p.m. at the WMPAC.  

“This is all from 2020, we’re just trying to get it across the finish line,” Shipman said on the three-phase plan.  

The school bond will be voted on by mail-in ballots, which should arrive in mid-April, and are due to the Gallatin County election office by May 2.  

“The narrative is really around growth,” Big Sky School Board trustee Kara Edgar told EBS. “Because student enrollment continues to grow, we’re forced to move from a Class C school to a Class B school. We’re basically building the facilities to reflect that need in the community.” 

Student body growth and projection between 2014 and 2030. COURTESY OF BSSD

Edgar pointed out that following growth projections—2.5% per year, on average—total enrollment will reach 500 students by the time next year’s kindergarten class graduates high school. Total enrollment broke 300 students between 2014 and 2015, and 400 students between 2020 and 2021.  

As a Class B school, Shipman said the current, 365-seat gym won’t cut it.  

“Most of our [basketball] games were ‘sell outs,’” Shipman said. “I know from growing up in Montana sports, [opponents] bring half of their town, if not more, to away games.” 

Shipman said the Class B high school gyms in Townsend, Big Timber, and Whitehall have seating capacities of 1,200, 950 and 800, respectively. He also mentioned that Manhattan Christian High School has hosted nearly every district basketball tournament since he’s been superintendent. That gym seats 1,500.  

Big Sky’s proposed gymnasium would seat 1,150.  

The existing high school gym during a 2023 home basketball game. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

With two total gyms and one built for prime-time action, Shipman said Lone Peak High School would be able to bid on hosting tournaments. Edgar said that could bring new people to Big Sky, filling hotels and restaurants. 

Aside from big games, Shipman described the limitations of a single gym. Some team is always practicing, he said, forcing tough schedules on student-athletes and parents. Edgar said the youth basketball season is only six weeks long due to practice constraints, which disappoints her own kids. Pickleball and futsal are open to the public but face limited gym-time.  

“One thing the school district really heard when we did the master facility planning… and will be a nice thing for the community is an indoor walking track,” Shipman said, adding that security measures will separate access between students and public. “We’re really trying to open this up to the community as much as we possibly can.” 

Tax impact 

The bond’s additional tax impact will be $92.40 annually for every million dollars in taxable home value, or $7.70 per month. 

It folds into the existing 20-year bond which has about 17 years remaining, Shipman said.  

“The board wants to be very prudent with taxpayer dollars, and make sure people understand this is really coming from a need in the school community as opposed to, ‘let’s build for the sake of building,’” Edgar said. “We’re acutely aware of rising building cost throughout the country, and rising labor cost here in Big Sky. The goal here is to accurately complete all three phases.” 

Shipman pointed out that the school district’s tax impact is decreasing.  

“Even though we’re taking on more debt, the impact is going down because the tax footprint of the community is getting much larger,” Shipman said.  

School District tax from fiscal year 2014 to 2030. Projection after FY23 includes the extra debt. COURTESY OF BSSD

“Our hope is to engage the community at a number of different events, either here on campus or one at the center of town, to get information out to the community,” Edgar said.  

Montana school districts can only fund new infrastructure with local taxpayer revenue, Shipman said.  

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