East Helena residents to vote on high school site purchase in July

Posted at 10:14 PM, May 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-05 14:59:39-04

EAST HELENA – Just a week after people in the East Helena School District approved building a high school of their own, the school board asked voters to weigh in on the school’s location.

At a meeting Monday night, trustees unanimously decided to call a property election on July 23. Ballots will be mailed out to district residents several weeks before the election.

Superintendent Ron Whitmoyer said the district plans to buy 35 acres at Dartman Field, north of the Lewis and Clark Search and Rescue building. He said they have developed the outlines of a contract with the Montana Environmental Trust Group, and that he expects the price will be around $207,000.

The upcoming vote would not have any financial impact on residents. The money to buy the land is already available, as part of the $29.5 million bond voters passed last week to construct an East Helena high school. However, state law requires a school district to get voter approval whenever it purchases a piece of land that isn’t adjacent to property it already owns.

“The vote is actually just to affirm that we can buy that property, using the money that we already have,” Whitmoyer said.

Whitmoyer said the district is working quickly to finalize the purchase, because leaders hope to finish the new school in time for the 2020-21 school year. He said, if voters approve the agreement in July, work on the building could start as soon as this fall. If they reject it, he said construction would be delayed by months, or possibly a year.

“The community wanted us to build a high school, and I don’t think they just wanted us to sit around and admire the problem – they wanted us to get after it,” he said. “So, we’re going to try to get this moving as quickly as possible.”

The district has already put out a request for qualifications from architects interested in designing the high school. Whitmoyer said he expects the board to select a firm by the start of June.