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Local schools get infrastructure improvements

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LAKE COUNTY – While the kids are on summer vacation, local schools have been bustling with projects to improve school infrastructure.

Ronan students can look forward to a freshly paved high school parking lot and a new floor in the Pablo Elementary School gym. Most of the lighting in the school district has been replaced with LED lighting. The inside of the middle school was repainted.

Superintendent Mark Johnston said he chose the major summer projects during a walk through before school got out. The Pablo gym floor was breaking down, making it slippery and unsafe for athletes and students. “We were happy to get that done,” Johnston said.  The high school parking lot is a busy place, so it rose to top priority when it came to summertime improvements. Students are dropped off in that parking lot and community events are often held at the school.

Johnston said the upgrade in lighting is likely to benefit taxpayers. The cost was minimal because Mission Valley Power awarded the district rebates for carrying out the upgrade. Johnston said he expects the school’s energy savings will outweigh the cost of the lights within two years. “It’ll be a huge savings to the taxpayers,” he said. 

As of Aug. 8, all the projects in Ronan schools were finished. Staff was working to get classrooms back in place to prepare for students to return. The Ronan updates are being funded by a combination of Impact Aid and the school’s facilities fund. 

Johnston said the school would be ready to welcome students in a few weeks. “I’m really pleased with the work we got done,” he said. 

The St. Ignatius School District focused on completing necessary maintenance that had been put off due to lack of funding in past years. 

“We’ve just been putting Band-Aids on things for years, and it’s nice to be able to dig in and get those things that need to be fixed,” Superintendent Jason Sargent said. 

The school used funds from an INTERCAP loan to fund the improvements. The low-interest loan from the state of Montana provides government agencies like schools with the funds necessary to take on large projects. 

One major project was the repair of the outside of the elementary school building. The roof and windows have been fixed. New siding will be installed by the end of September.

New counters and sinks were installed in the elementary school bathrooms. Updated lockers, benches and art display cases will spruce up the middle school and high school hallways. Each building in the school got a new mobile SMART board this summer, and the district added two Chromebook carts to its inventory.

St. Ignatius also purchased equipment that will help the district run smoothly. A new small bus will replace a broken down van that previously carried small groups of students on field trips. This summer, $27,000 of maintenance equipment was brought to the district. “It will make maintenance much easier for our crew,” Sargent said. 

The school’s tennis courts have been sealed and will be painted in time for school to start. Football bleachers were replaced. The sidewalks in front of the elementary school were redone this summer.

The school planned to install a new ceiling in the district’s gymnasium this summer; however, the company that initially agreed to do the renovation backed out of the deal. Now the district must solicit bids from businesses a second time, and the project will not be completed until the fall of 2020. Sargent called the setback “very disappointing.”

Crews will continue to work on new construction for career preparation facilities throughout the school year. A bond the district passed earlier this year will fund those projects. Sargent said he appreciated taxpayers supporting the school through the bond. 

“This was a big sacrifice for many people, and we’re working very hard to assure that that sacrifice is meaningful and is going to be a benefit for the children in our community,” he said. 

According to Sargent, construction on the new facilities was slow to start because the school sought bids for each distinct element of the project. “In terms of time frame that hurt us, but in terms of what we can do with the money [from the bond] it helped.” 

Sargent said changes to the school’s infrastructure will have a real impact in the coming school year. He added that completing real fixes to broken or degraded infrastructure would make the facility safer for students and staff. “Students will be able to feel proud of their facilities and the improvements we’re making,” Sargent said. 


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