(HELENA) Crews have finished demolishing the historic Central School building in downtown Helena. Now, the Helena School District is turning its attention to the buildings that will replace Central and two other elementary schools.

This month, the architects designing the new Central, Bryant and Jim Darcy Elementary will hold another round of community meetings to give the public a chance to weigh in on some potential designs.

“These meetings, at this particular point, are beginning to specifically focus on the floorplans and the early concepts of what those schools might look like from the outside,” said Helena superintendent Jack Copps.

Copps said the layout of the new schools has largely been determined already. For example, he said the new Central School will be two stories, like the older building was.

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“Each school is going to be very different, and that will become very obvious as people begin to see the drafts,” said Copps.

But the exterior designs people will see at the meetings are very much open to change. Copps called them “some of the earliest concepts” the architects have come up with.

“We want people to understand that, in the end, that concept may be considerably different, so we don’t want people to just draw a conclusion that that’s it,” he said.

The first of the community meetings will be for people in the Central neighborhood. It will start at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Holter Museum of Art. There will also be meetings at Bryant on Sept. 19 and at Jim Darcy on Sept. 27.

Copps said he’s still optimistic the district will be able to meet its initial timelines for the new schools. That means the designs could be finalized later this year, construction could start next spring and the buildings could open in time for the 2019 school year.

Construction is already well underway on East Helena’s newest elementary school. Contractors have laid the first part of the concrete foundation, and they have already begun framing the walls.

“Dick Anderson Construction expressed that they thought they were two to three weeks ahead, which is a real plus,” said superintendent Ron Whitmoyer.

The East Helena School District has also finished cleanup efforts at the site to address contamination in the soil. Whitmoyer said tests have shown concentrations of lead are even lower than what the district had hoped to reach. He said leaders don’t believe the dust raised at the construction site will pose any kind of health risk.

Crews hope to have the outside shell of the new building finished in the next few months, so they can work inside through the winter.

The new school will house East Helena’s first- and second-graders, to address overcrowding at Eastgate and Radley Elementary. It’s scheduled to open its doors next summer. Whitmoyer said the contractors intend to turn the building over to the district by Aug. 15, 2018.

Both school districts went forward with construction projects after voters approved bond proposals in May. Helena’s $63 million bond will pay for the three new schools, along with security and technology improvements at the other elementary and middle schools. East Helena’s $12 million issue will fund the new elementary school and an expansion at East Valley Middle School.

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