Belgrade School District’s request for a $25 million high school construction bond passed in Tuesday’s election with a 60 percent approval rate, according to the Gallatin County Election Office’s unofficial results.
Voters also said yes to a $101,374.34 general fund mill levy for Belgrade’s high school district, with 2,640 votes for the levy and 1,878 against. Approvals were a trend all across the whole county — not one school funding ballot initiative failed.
After months of hard work on the bond campaign, Belgrade High School Principal Paul Lamb said he was “on cloud nine” Wednesday. He said the success of Belgrade’s initiatives, as well as the rest of the triumphant levies around the county didn’t surprise him.
“I think the whole Gallatin Valley has seen the increased population and all the houses that are being built,” Lamb said. “People understand our needs, everyone has growing pains. People are listening.”
Now that voters have approved the high school expansion, Lamb said it’s time to dig into the meat of the project.
“We’ll meet with the architect and start actually putting in every single wall, every storage closet, restrooms and all that” on the blueprints, he said. “We need to have conversations with all the different teaching departments to find out what they need in their new classrooms. The rubber is really meeting the road now in finalizing what everything is going to look like.”
The next 60 days are a mandatory waiting period that allows people to contest the election results before the district begins the bond selling process. School officials will lock in design plans during that time so they can go out to bid as soon as the 60 days are up, Lamb said.
Belgrade Schools District Clerk Jay Bates said he met with D.A. Davidson officials Wednesday morning to discuss the upcoming bond schedule. Though it’s hard to say precisely when the district will receive the money, Bates said September is a good guess. Construction would start immediately after that.
The district is in good financial standing, Bates said, so it’s likely to get a good interest rate on the bond. Lower interest rates mean fewer taxpayer dollars over the 20-year life of the bond.
Construction will begin in the unfinished basement wing of the high school, Lamb said. Once those ten classrooms are finished, hopefully next spring, classes will vacate the old wing between the special events center and the courtyard and move to the new basement rooms.
Lamb said he hopes to get demolition on that old wing started before the end of the school year, so a big chunk of work can be pushed through during the summer months. The entire project is slated for completion in the fall of 2019.
The principal credited the diligence of many to the success of the bond and levy.
“I would say it was a lot of people’s hard work and a lot of conversations,” Lamb said. “The Belgrade Chamber of Commerce was very helpful getting the word out. I had a large contingent of teachers going door to door to talk about the issues. I think a lot of people put in the hard work to let the community know that it’s needed for the students. The voters know we’re doing a prudent thing.”
Bates predicted Lamb’s response about where praise should be given.
“He’ll call it a team effort, but he really took the lead on it,” Bates said. “The credit goes to Paul Lamb. He did the leg work.”
Though school officials were pleased with the voters’ decision, Bates said he’s still concerned about voter turnout.
“The thing to note is that even though it passed by a big margin, we still only have about 5,000 people voting out of about 13,000 registered voters in the district,” he said.
The Belgrade voters that did participate also elected three school board trustees. Seven candidates ran for the three open seats, but all three incumbents won their spots for another three-year term. Board Vice-Chairman Peter Morgan led the field with 1,793 votes, Dee Batey got 1,559 and Bob Marx earned 1,478. Rounding out the ballot was Renae Mattimoe with 1,274 votes, Anthony Heck with 1,102, Michael Maczewski with 975 and Matthew Colbert with 972.
Marx joked that he’s looking forward to summer. Spring is a busy time for school boards, and he said they’ve been piling on extra meetings to get everything done.
Now that the construction bond has passed, he said he’s sure that will occupy their plates for a while. Of all the board members, Marx spoke out against the bond most strongly. He wasn’t convinced voters would approve it, and said he thought the district needed to do a better job of outlining “a vision” for the future of the schools.
“Yes, I’m surprised,” he said. “I thought the levy maybe would pass, but I didn’t think the bond had a chance.”
Belgrade’s school board will discuss the election results at their next regular meeting on Monday, May 9 at 7 p.m.