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Lolo School bond makes second run at voters

By Steve Fetveit, Anchor, sfetveit@keci.com
Published On: Jan 27 2014 11:18:10 PM MST
Updated On: Jan 28 2014 08:20:22 AM MST
MISSOULA, Mont. -

On this day, 630 energetic youngsters will show for classes in Lolo School… a hodge-podge of buildings that climb a hillside campus in the middle of town.

It’s a far cry from the one room white school that started it all back in 1890.

Half of the homes that surround the school have students who spend their days here, and as the community grows, more are on the way, forcing some classes to fill beyond a desired student-teacher ratio.

The school’s getting by right now; not every classroom is packed.  But School Superintendent Michael Magone sees big problems on the horizon and old problems continue to plague the campus.  Highway 93 runs in front of the school.  It’s a safety concern.  Too many buildings.  Too many entrances.  A vulnerability at a time when schools have become targets.

In the school’s cafeteria, students pass through the lunch line in an hour and a half.  It’s doable but mealtime is quick for students.  Each one gets just ten minutes to eat and be gone.

School leaders knew this day would come years ago, when they bought 20 acres of level ground on Lolo’s East Side.  The school owns the land, but building schools is expensive.  Too much money to create a whole new school.  Administrators say a project that size would outsize the district’s bond capacity.

A compromise would relocate half the school classes, K through 4th grade, to the new location on Farm Lane.  A $10.5 million dollar building project would add classrooms, a cafeteria and gymnasium.  It’s largely the same proposal that faced voters last October.  The last time it came before voters, the bond  failed by 43 votes.

School leaders tell us they’re mindful of the financial burden for taxpayers.  They also know that what is difficult today becomes doubly so in the future.  But while inflation is pushing cost of construction up… bond rates are down slightly creating what the school board hopes will be a window of opportunity they may not get again.  Today, a home with a $200-thousand dollar taxable valuation would pay about $251 dollars a year.

Still, voter feedback is mixed and a community divided.  Many are concerned about their mounting tax burden.  Others are unhappy about a project that would divide the elementary and middle schools at two locations. Others are in support of the plan.

The school hopes to ease the anxiety that comes with unanswered questions.  They’ve started a series of public meetings to deal with lingering questions, with the hope that they’ll turn opposition into enough support to pass the bond.  Two of the meetings are still on the schedule.  One will be held February 11th, the other on February 25th.  Both will take place in the Lolo school’s lower building at 6:30pm.  Ballots will be mailed to voters on February 20th.

Election Day is March 12.