“Pardon our dust”: Missoula schools ready to open

Posted at 7:46 AM, Aug 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-29 14:36:46-04

MISSOULA – Disruption and dust mark the start of classes at some Missoula schools again this week.

But with the MCPS  entering into its third year of a massive reconstruction, the number of completed projects is growing.

A case in point is two of three high schools in the city where one building is approaching wrap-up while the other is just getting familiar with the sight of hard hats and equipment.

While many of the city’s elementary schools are seeing the completion of projects under the Smart Schools 2020 bond issue, the middle schools and high schools are beginning to see construction impacts.

Crews are wrapping up projects both outside and inside at Hellgate High School.

The most startling change is the re-worked main office where security improvements are in place and students will find an entirely new entryway and features like the cafeteria that opened last spring. Outside, student and parent traffic will have to work around major street and water main improvements.

But across town at Sentinel, the construction which began at the start of summer is moving into high gear. Superintendent Mark Thane says there’s been a big effort to get classes ready.

Crews have continued to work well after the sun goes down and Thane says the district really appreciates the contractors’ efforts to get these schools ready for opening day.

“In order to capture as many classrooms as they could, they were very aggressive over the summer. And they’ve pushed right up against the deadline. I did walk Sentinel this morning and they’re in the process of cleaning spaces that need to be ready for teachers and students on Wednesday,” Thane said. “So it is a last minute scramble. I think in the long run it’ll all pay off. But there’s certainly a sense of disequilibrium right now.”

Even so, conditions will be unsettled. The main entrance is closed as are hallways and some areas. Others still had furniture and supplies needing to cleared away Tuesday afternoon. While some classes are ready, other teachers were still looking for chairs and desks.

“I think what’s most complicating with both Hellgate and Sentinel is that we’re converting from steam heat to hot water heat,” Thane said. “And so every space in the building is essentially being re-plumbed.

“At Sentinel, they’re also doing some seismic upgrades and some bracing, which again causes significant disruptions to a number of spaces throughout the building,” he added.

Thane is encouraging parents to look for brochures showing changes at all the schools — and more updates coming. He added that each succeeding project is becoming a smoother process.

“We have learned some important lessons. And I think ultimately those will serve us well moving forward. But it is still somewhat disruptive to actually go through the process,” Thane said.

“And just my kudos to staff and students and the parent community. They’ve been very tolerant. Again, I think they’ve been able to take the long-range view and know that they’ll be well served by the upgraded facilities,” he concluded.

Big Sky High School will be among the last of the MCPS schools to be retrofitted.