Valley Journal
Valley Journal

Mission breaks ground on school building project

ST. IGNATIUS — Dump trucks, backhoes and construction workers began a transformation at the St. Ignatius School last Monday as they broke ground on a $2.5 million building project that will “help us serve kids better in a number of ways,” Superintendent Gerry Nolan said.

Planning for the project began in August, Nolan said, and includes a number of much-needed improvements and new facilities. And some of the best news for the community is that no local taxes will be affected. Most of the funding is coming from federal Impact Aid — money the district receives in lieu of property taxes because of the federal land within the school district — that the district has saved over the years, Nolan explained. Added to that is some stimulus funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and two grants from the Montana Department of Commerce. 

The elementary school addition is scheduled to be completed in mid-August before school resumes, while the high school project has a finish date in November. 

“We’re pretty confident (the high school) will be done before that,” Nolan said, noting that the completion date depends mostly on how quickly the contractor can get all the building materials from suppliers.

A new multi-purpose room, which will serve as the new lunchroom, three new classrooms and a remodeled kitchen make up the bulk of the elementary school project. The multi-purpose room includes a stage that will be the school’s main venue for musical and theatrical productions and also will serve as the elementary music room. The old music room will become a computer lab. Since lunch will no longer be served in the gym, the new facility will add more flexibility into the elementary schedule, Nolan added. 

The plan also calls for revamping the elementary school’s heating system, which until now, ran on boilers put in “when Franklin Roosevelt was President,” Nolan said. 

In the high school, one of the main issues the school board considered while planning the project was the lack of space for students to gather before and after school and in between classes. The elementary gym, which still doubles as the school lunchroom, is overcrowded at mealtime, and many high school students sit in the halls to eat, Nolan explained. The new addition to the high school will fix that problem.

“We’re going to have, for the first time ever, a commons room,” Nolan said.

The commons will be outfitted with tables, chairs and benches, providing a place for students to gather as well as a venue for meetings. The addition will also include new administration offices, a computer lab and a reception area for visitors, an improvement over the current entryway that’s “just all halls,” Nolan explained.
 
The high school addition will extend from the south side of the existing building, near the high school gym entrance, and will become the main entrance for the school.
 
“We don’t really have a front to our school, and we now will,” Nolan said.
 
The new “front door” to the high school will feature an overhang with poles designed to look like a teepee, in keeping with the school board’s desire to include local culture in the plans.
 
When visitors walk in the new entrance, they’ll see a river painted on the floor of the main hallway and the commons, with images of native animals like bison, deer, elk and bear appearing throughout the area.
 
“One of the things we really wanted to do was incorporate some Native American architecture and symbolism,” Nolan explained. “Over half our kids are Native American, and we are in the heart of the Flathead Indian Reservation.”
 
Information about the building plans and color mock-ups are posted in the elementary and high schools, and Nolan said he’s heard lots of positive feedback from students and their parents about the project.
 
“It’s a start,” he said. “It’s all we could do right now with the money on hand and the other sources that we had … we’re fortunate, because building costs are down right now.”

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