Ballots go out Oct. 6 on a $15.8 million bond issue to renovate and expand Somers Middle School.
Approximately 4,097 ballots will be mailed out to active, registered voters and are due in Somers-Lakeside School District by 8 p.m. Oct. 24.
If approved, owners of homes with assessed values of $200,000 could anticipate annual property taxes to increase by $160. The life of the bond would be 20 years.
The bond issue would fund construction of a new addition while remodeling a wing of the school built in the 1990s. Two older wings of the building would be demolished.
Construction would include a new gym, fitness area, science lab, shop, art room, music room, band room, kitchen, commons, classrooms and the flexible, multi-purpose spaces. Once finished, the building would be approximately 57,090 square feet with a capacity of 270 students. Current enrollment is 180.
Somers Middle School was constructed in 1953, with additions built in the 1960s and ’90s to accommodate growing enrollment. Although Somers-Lakeside School District passed a $185,000-per-year tax levy for operation and maintenance in 2015 to tackle urgent facility needs, years of rejected levies has led to a backlog of deferred maintenance and the building continues to show its age as new issues arise.
One example is corroded cast-iron pipes discovered over the summer beneath the kitchen, cafeteria and maintenance room. The damaged pipes — original to the building — were discovered after a smell was traced to a waterlogged crawl space. Repairs were paid for with roughly $8,000 of levy money.
Asbestos is also a concern at the school. Floor tiling, walls and ceiling tiles in the oldest part of the middle school and ceiling tiles contain asbestos.
The building also isn’t meeting the needs of providing a modern education to students, according district Superintendent Joe Price.
“One of the things I don’t think we have focused on enough — there is quite a difference between the way we are expected to educate children in 2017 compared to the 1970s or 1960s,” Price said. “We know now that kids learn better and understand things more deeply when they can have hands-on experiences.”
He used science and shop classes as examples.
“In previous times you have a science classroom and a textbook and focus on that. We’re looking for a facility where we have a science lab and kids have hands-on experiences,” Price said.
Located in the basement, the shop space limits how many students can take the elective.
“It’s a very popular class. We can only fit 12 students at a time in the shop,” Price said.
He also noted that the shop is a nice facility for woodworking, but there are many more educational opportunities.
“A modern shop may have woodworking and metalwork, but it also has 3-D printing and digital controls on machines,” Price said.
At one point as an alternative to bonds or levies, the district discussed sending its sixth- through eighth-graders along with state funding tied to each student to Kalispell if a new middle school was built as Kalispell Public Schools was in the midst of facility planning. The Somers-Lakeside school board ultimately decided to reject the proposal in May 2016.
The board’s decision was in part due to survey responses of residents in May 2016, in which most of the 235 respondents favored a bond issue to retrofit and build an addition onto Somers Middle School over sending students away.
Following the Somers-Lakeside school board decision, the Kalispell school board tabled building a new middle school.
Voters are reminded that they must sign the outer envelope containing their ballot in order to be counted.
For more information call the school at 406-857-3661 or visit www.somersdist29.org.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.