The Belgrade School Board heard a plan Monday from an architectural firm leading an internal dialogue with school officials about the future needs of the Belgrade School District focused on accommodating present and future growth. And that means more schools to meet that demand. And that means going to the voters for a bond to build those schools.

The idea being pitched is to buy land and build two new elementary schools, add a larger cafeteria-commons area to Saddle Peak Elementary, and purchase land to house a future middle school, according to district records. One of the proposed elementary schools would replace Heck-Quaw Elementary, which would be repurposed for administration needs and an alternative school among other uses.

While no decisions were made to move forward Monday, the cost of the proposal is estimated to be $36,020,000, according to an analysis. The total includes building two 62,500-squre foot schools at $13,437,500 each for a total of $26,875,000 or $215 per square foot; site developments for both schools ring in at $2,100,000 or $6 per square foot; adding 5,000-square feet to the Saddle Peak cafeteria-commons is $1,250,000 at $250 per square foot; and “soft costs” like fixtures, desks, and fees among others is estimated to be 20 percent of the total cost at $5,795,000.

The $36 million total does not include purchasing the land necessary for two elementary schools and a future middle school, architects told the board.

Trustees have explored the idea of acquiring land and building new elementary schools since last summer, according to district records. Current housing developments are booming on the city’s north side and several more subdivisions are moving on the west side of town with 

rumors of others on the horizon to the south. More houses mean more children to educate, and the elementary schools are already burgeoning, according to district officials. Accommodating growth is one of the trustee’s highest goals, Board Chairman Peter Morgan has said.

With that in mind, an 18-member advisory committee was formed this spring led by A&E Architects, a Bozeman firm involved in numerous educational and public building projects in the area. The architect team gave a presentation of the committee’s recommendations after more than three months of meetings to the board Monday night.

The call for new buildings came, in part, from a new demographic study that predicts possible enrollment numbers for the next decade, committee organizers reported. The study incorporated two ways to determine growth; “Method 1” largely used historical data and birth rates, while “Method 2” relied on future and current subdivision development.

“Both methods were used as a part of this master plan to provide ranges of solutions for the committee to consider,” architects wrote in a report. “Method 1 generally has a lower rate of growth compared to Method 2. Overall, the committee felt like the growth facing Belgrade School District is closer to Method 2 and that the district should ultimately be proactive in paying attention to the growth presented in Method 2.”

Under “Method 1,” demographers called for an additional 499 students within 10 years, while “Method 2” suggested 966 more students in the same time period, according to the report. “Method 2” also cited student enrollment could swell by 2,097 students in 15 years.

The committee said the best place for two new schools and a future middle school is to build where the growth will occur, according to the report. The school to replace Heck-Quaw would best be located in the northwest corner of the city just west of subdivisions in place for the Prescott property along Bolinger Road. The other elementary school and land for a new middle school should be built south of Interstate 90 along Alaska Road. Neither sites are set in stone and are only recommendations by the committee.

Belgrade resident and engineer Mark Maierle questioned the southern site choice since crucial infrastructure like water and sewer in that area is undeveloped at the moment. Future growth will likely bring about upgrades in the area but is unclear when that will happen. 

The City of Belgrade doesn’t provide water and sewer that far south, but the Four Corners Water and Sewer District is in the area and serves Gallatin Heights subdivision at the southwest corner of Jackrabbit Lane and Valley Center Road, according to city and Gallatin County records. The subdivision is about 1.5 miles along established roads from the proposed school site area. But land owners seeking to hook into the district are required to pay for bringing the pipes to them, which is a costly endeavor.

Even so, the discussions taking place regarding new schools are still just that – discussions, school officials said.

If a bond is sought, trustees would have to decided by August to place the issue on the ballot for a February special election to have the schools opened by 2021, committee members told the board. A February election would give the district more time to shop the idea to the voters.

For the most part, trustees spoke little during the presentation. But Chairman Peter Morgan said the committee’s work is a good foundation.

“It’s where we need to go,” he said.