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Major renovation turns Stevensville Schools into community showcase

Posted at 3:56 PM, Apr 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-02 12:31:12-04

STEVENSVILLE — After more than $20 million and over two years of disruption, the biggest school renovation in Bitterroot is finally complete.

When Stevensville School leaders proposed, and voters approved, two major bond issues in 2019 the district embarked on an ambitious path to renovate both the elementary and high school. No one knew of the pandemic and disruption to come.

"They were difficult times for us in the education field and really transitioning to offsite," Stevensville School Superintendent Bob Moore said this week, sitting inside the new Commons at the renovated high school, just minutes after it was opened for the first time.

"It did help us in the construction project quite frankly because when the students weren't here, they were able to accomplish a lot of projects that you wouldn't normally have been able to do while we were in session."

In fact, the timing was everything. The district was also able to tap into historically-low bond rates and lock down the project before all the supply issues and spiking construction costs. And Thursday, the community got to see the results. A dramatic transformation.

"We had really some darker colors, wasn't very bright. We had old-style lighting that was fluorescent lighting. Half of them were taken down for energy savings," Moore said, reflecting back on the buildings of three years ago. "And so we've gone with high viz LED lighting. We've replaced all of our infrastructure for low voltage wiring and computing. Fiber optics. We have now fire sprinkled all of the building."

From the amazing high school commons with its open space, phone charging lockers, and "Hive" coffee shop, to the colorful mural and entryway to the elementary school the change is remarkable.

"The building was designed to have a lot of welcoming spaces, perhaps none more so than the brand new library, which faces the Bitterroot Mountains for a sense of place.

"We're still in an old 1950s-era building in the high school and 1970s-era building in the elementary school, but for the most part you would never know it," Moore said with a smile, thanking the architects and contractors for their suggestions and work.

Junior Brandon Seeber was trying out the comfy chairs in the Commons for the first time.

"I like the changes, especially in the AG Shop over there because AG shop is like really nice now and not a building that was still, that was built before my grandma was in school. Or even before she was alive," he said.

That new trades and technology center allows a new focus on vocational training, with updated classrooms everywhere.

"And as a teacher, I'm just I'm really grateful to be in a building in a community that cares about where I work, you know, and the kids that I'm teaching," said ninth-grade English teacher Ayse Haxton, as she showed off her classroom.

Outside, it's not just new entryways, but additional parking, and a traffic flow that has made major improvements in before and after school hours. Plus, Moore noted careful budgeting allowed many other projects to be added, such as the new gymnasium roof.

"We did design a lot of these areas with the public in mind as well. Adult education classes, we have a lot of usage in this building. We have a lot of community meetings that come into this building when they're large community meetings."

Meetings where people will surely marvel over the changes.