STEVENSVILLE — There's rapid progress to report on one of the largest school renovation projects in Western Montana in several years and that's creating some excitement in the heart of the Bitterroot Valley.
If you turn away for a couple of weeks and miss the latest additions, you'll be astonished at the changes taking place on the Stevensville Schools campus.
Quality Construction and its subcontractors are right on schedule on the $20 million in changes for the primary school and high school. And while there's still lots to complete, it's becoming easier to visualize the finished project, as I saw after being invited on a tour this week.
"It is exciting to watch the progress of things happening," School Board Chair Cathi Cook said through a big smile. "We know that the students are going to be excited when they get to get into these new buildings next fall. We'll still have some construction to do, but our staff, everybody, will really benefit from this project."
The new classrooms, and renovated ones at the elementary show a bold design for the future, and the work to solve old challenges left by previous building projects. The real showpiece is the new Agriculture and Industrial Trades and Technology building, adjoining the new parking area and main high school entrance…
"Our vision of the whole project was to make this kind of a regional magnet, or an area, valley magnet for students who wanted to pursue technology education to a large degree," said Superintendent Bob Moore. "And we're looking at expanding that program with additional teaching staff as well."
There are thousands of square feet of dedicated shop and class space unmatched in a school this size. Other changes include new convertible class and testing spaces, areas for programs, a new district office keeping public and the students secure. The old dark library is being replaced with a sweeping roof line open to the mountains, with architects taking advantage of location.
"Fulfill our wish list of opening up and getting more light in and really taking in the advantage of having the views that we have down here in Stevensville," observed Cook.
Some may have wondered with all this work, why not just build a new high school? But Dr. Moore says it comes down to financials. A couple of years ago the district had a bonding capacity of about 34-million dollars, far short of the 46-million it would have cost to build an entirely new high school. Cook said that took some faith on the community's part that's paying off.
"Yes, we couldn't have done it without our community support and we really appreciate it. A construction project always has its challenges and it seems like it takes forever while you're going through it. But once you get through it, it's definitely worth it."
School will be dismissed for summer in May, so constructors have a clear path to finish most of the project this summer.
For more pictures of the work, see our photo gallery.