Missoula County Coverage

Jan 11, 2013 9:16 AM by Cristy Aranguiz - KPAX News

Public briefed on Lolo School expansion plans

MISSOULA - Over 100 Lolo residents showed up Thursday evening to learn more about the significant challenges the school faces as enrollment keeps growing, and what can be done to expand the over 100-year-old school.

Superintendent Mike Magone detailed some of the most pressing concerns about a lack of space for the nearly 630 who attend class at Lolo School. The number of students is expected to keep going up, and Magone pointed out that space is at a premium on the hillside campus.

Some administrators are already working in closets, and the school needs more room for tutoring and to provide for special needs students.

Magone added that the fifth and sixth grades already have inadequate science facilities, grades are split up between buildings, and there are many safety and security risks with the aging buildings along U.S. Highway 93 South.

The growing enrollment combined with a need for additional programs has the school bursting at the seams.

"We've had as big of an enrollment as this, and just a touch bigger some years ago. But what we didn't have was as many programs in that point in time," Magone explained during his presentation.

"So it's not just the increase in enrollment, it's the increase in the number of programs. Counselors, school health, gifted and talented, the assessment stuff, the data collection, that all means extra room, and extra space that's needed," he added.

Residents were presented with three options: Do nothing and continue to deal with safety, security and educational issues; rebuild on the current and limited space, which would cost taxpayers $10.6 million; or move to a nearby 20 acre site, with a projected cost of a little over $10.5 million.

Those at the meeting had many questions about the plans, including how the security and overcrowding issues would be addressed. Many also voiced their support for the school, saying it's the heart of the Lolo community, and is one of the main reasons why folks move to town.

The Lolo School Board asked for the public's help in getting the message out about the proposals, and will decided whether or not to push for a school bond levy in the next few weeks.

The plans to either renovate the existing buildings, or build on the new site off of Farm Lane, would cost Lolo taxpayers who own homes worth $200,000 roughly $200 a year in new taxes, though that number drop during the length of the bond.

- information from Mark Thorsell included in this report.

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