Eureka School District Seeks $18.1 Million Bond for New Facility

Lincoln County school system hoping to build new elementary and middle school building

By Dillon Tabish
A classroom at Eureka Middle School on Oct. 18, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

EUREKA — It’s not hard for middle school principal Trevor Utter to find signs of deteriorating buildings erected in 1929 and expanded in 1960. There are the crumbling cinder blocks. There are the cracks sprawling across sections of the ceiling and walls. There’s the leaky roof.

“Maybe it will last 10 years. Maybe it will last two years,” he says, walking through the oldest part of the school campus tucked in a residential neighborhood in the heart of town. “But we could get caught in a bad situation and we don’t want that.”

The Eureka public school district is seeking voter approval of an $18.15 million general obligation bond to construct a new kindergarten-through-eighth-grade building that would attach to the existing Lincoln County High School, creating an updated and cohesive campus with new multi-use learning sections for each grade and centralized and expanded kitchen facilities.

Ballots were mailed Oct. 20 and are due back Nov. 7. A public meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 24 at 6:30 p.m. in the high school commons.

Due to the proposed construction plans, the bond request spans both the elementary and high school districts, with roughly $14.68 million in the elementary and $3.47 million in the high school.

For the 20-year bond, property taxes for a home in both districts valued at $100,000 would increase an estimated $166 annually, or roughly $13.86 a month, according to the school district. For a home in just the elementary district, property taxes for a home valued at $100,000 would increase roughly $132 annually, or $11 a month.

Under the proposed plan, the district would build onto the high school facility with multi-use learning spaces, or pods, that would accommodate different elementary and middle school classes. The current elementary school building would be removed and repurposed into a new pickup and drop-off area. There would be a new gym, library and commons space for the younger grades, and the high school would receive a new shop and bus barn. The 1929 junior high school building would be saved for future school or community needs.

The school district hired Missoula-based construction and engineering firm McKinstry to study the campus, and the company identified several issues that were already apparent. The middle school needs a new roof, estimated to cost roughly $3 million, as well as new boilers for heating the sites.

“We’re running a boiler right now that we have no idea if it will work tomorrow,” Eureka School Superintendent Jim Mepham said.

“And we have big-time roof issues. Really the decision is, ‘Can we afford to build this new site or continue to put expensive Band-Aids on it?’ But the need is definitely there.”

The bond would lead to roughly 61,000 square feet of new building that would feature largely flexible multi-use areas.

“We’re trying to make a much more efficient system and learning environment,” Mepham said.

School officials say the goal is to address the needs now and avoid a dire situation in the future that requires reactive measures that could cost more and involve less long-term planning.

“We have to address this issue at some point,” Utter said. “I think now is the time to do it.”

“We hope to set up Eureka’s education system for another 70 years.”

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