HELENA — Helena Public Schools is currently working on a Facilities Master Plan. This plan will set the course on how the school district allocates funds to repair and maintain school property.
“Without that document, then we’re really just being reactive to emergencies,” says Helena Public Schools Superintendent Rex Weltz.
Helena Public Schools commissioned SMA Architecture + Design to create plan options for elementary, middle, and high schools.
“We have a great example of three brand new buildings, that’s amazing for our students and we have 100-year-old buildings. And so, the board’s gonna need to make, and we will make, recommendations to the board on where do we think that money’s best spent,” says Weltz.
Weltz says that the options will span from comprehensive remodels to full school closure and consolidation. Weltz says that if that option is chosen, there will be plenty of notice for families.
Much of the reason for this Facilities Master Plan is budgeting. While the school does have a building reserve fund, it’s not enough to cover about $90 million worth of deferred maintenance. With rising costs, inflation, and declining attendance the school’s dollar doesn’t go as far as prior years. This impact was seen earlier this year when the district made the decision to close the Ray Bjork Learning Center, relocating programs to other school property.
“I think if we do it again, we will make the decision, we'll reevaluate and see how it’s working, and then, you know, reevaluate the do we need to make changes again? So, I think it’s always ongoing. I don’t know if we ever get it right the very first time,” says Weltz.
Earlier this year a levy went before voters in Helena and was passed to directly support some of the deferred maintenance.
Weltz says that options from SMA along with findings from the Budget Consensus Recommendation Committee concerning about $2 million in budget deficit, will most likely be presented to the board in early to mid-winter, and that input from the community is encouraged.
“Yeah, my hopes is that we have multiple conversations, lots of opportunity for print, media coverage, that we lay out those options, and people have an opportunity to weigh in,” says Weltz.