$30 million school bond goes to voters next week

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Walking guard Joni Kamrud greets a family on the first day of school last week at Glacier Gateway.

The Columbia Falls elementary bond request to build a new school at Glacier Gateway Elementary and significantly remodel Ruder Elementary will be in the mail next week.

Nearly 9,000 ballots will go out to qualified voters on Sept. 19, asking them to either vote for or against the $37.072 million, 20-year bond.

The School District 6 Board approved the bond measure back in June, after a series of public meetings and tours that looked at the district’s elementary school needs.

In addition to the school upgrades, the bond issue would also pay for $200,000 in security improvements for the junior high and would add four new playing fields, along with parking, between Ruder Elementary and the junior high.

On a home assessed for $250,000, the bond would amount to an annual estimated tax impact of $26 a month, or $312 a year. The school notes, however, that taxpayers are currently paying for the junior high bond from 2000. That bond is paid off next year. The incremental difference in the loan payments is $17.58 per month, or about $210 annually on a $250,000 home.

Under the plan, Ruder Elementary would see new classrooms, a dining area, a music room and a completely revamped entrance, where people would enter the building from the east, based on preliminary drawings. It would also see repairs and/or replacements of its mechanical systems and remodels to its existing classrooms and well as a fire suppression system at a cost of about $10.215 million.

Gateway would see an entirely new structure, built northwest of the existing building in what is now either vacant land or playgrounds. The cost to tear down the old school and build a new one is about $24.352 million.

If approved, district would, however, retain the old junior high gym and remodel the existing multi-use gym. With so many after school winter activities going on, tearing down a perfectly good, albeit old, gym, was untenable.

When finished, Ruder would have a capacity of about 644 students, as would the new Gateway school.

The playing fields would include four new fields that could be used for soccer, lacrosse, football, or other sports. The fields themselves would cost about $642,000 and the parking lot another $311,000. The parking would also serve the junior high track, which is used for both high school and junior high track events.

Gateway school is in bad shape, the district notes, as its showing its age.

Some people have called for reopening Canyon Elementary, but that would cost the district about $1 million a year, but would only serve about 75 students, district leaders have said.

A promotional committee has been set up to pitch the bond to the public, with yard signs and a mailer.

They also plan to host tours of both schools so folks can see firsthand the problems at each school. The Flathead County election department will be involved in the vote count, checking signatures for authenticity.

School officials note the ballots must be returned by Oct. 8 at 8 p.m., not postmarked by that date.

Another public meeting to talk more about the project is Sept. 19 at 6:30 p.m. at Glacier Gateway with hot dogs for all in attendance.

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