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Montana City mulls abandoning sports complex

Marga Lincoln – IR Staff Writer – 07/01/05 | Posted: Thursday, June 30, 2005

John McGee, superintendent of Montana City School District, recommended abandoning completion of the school’s controversial new sports complex at the June 23 school board meeting.

If abandoned, the project will cost the district an estimated $91,815, according to McGee and school district clerk Diane Smith. The school district has already spent $36,485 on engineering, sand and gravel, and legal fees.

The board also briefly discussed selling the land, the site of a proposed future school, to pay its debts. The board postponed any decisions on these items to gather more information.

In other matters, the board unanimously approved hiring elementary principal Tony Kloker as interim, half-time school superintendent for the coming school year. Superintendent McGee resigned June 1 to take a position with Florence-Carlton School District.

Kloker, who’s been the K-5 principal, will also be interim, half-time K-3 principal.

The board also unanimously approved hiring sixth grade teacher Kathy Kidder as interim principal for grades 4 to 8. A new teacher will be hired to take over Kidder’s teaching responsibilities.

Sports complex red ink

School district officials learned at a June 14 meeting with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks that $45,000 of its proposed match for its first $75,000 grant were disqualified, McGee said.

The district would have to find this match funding from its general fund.

And the district remains deadlocked with the Big Sky Acres Homeowners Association over using Antler Avenue, the sole access to the sports complex site.

Although an engineering study completed by Stahly Engineering recommends Antler Avenue as an access, with an added $19,500 in safety improvements, the homeowners association insists that the district build a new loop road access. Costs are estimated at $60,000.

Neither of these road expenditures would go toward matching the grants.

Whatever decision the district makes, the math is bleak.

To complete phase I grant work on the project, the district would need to expend an additional $63,536, if it improves Antler Avenue, according to McGee’s report.

If it builds the loop road instead, it will expend an additional $101,036 to complete phase I.

At the June 14 meeting with Walt Timmerman of FWP, the district learned it could abandon the Land and Water Conservation Fund grants and request 50 percent reimbursement for work already completed, McGee said.

However, no group in Montana has abandoned a grant, so it’s unclear if this reimbursement will be granted.

“After careful consideration I have come to the conclusion that the Montana City School District can no longer afford to stumble through the what ifs and he said/she said process that has engulfed this project,” McGee said, reading from a written statement.

“Although we started off well intentioned, it is now clear that I made some poor assumptions as we worked through the LWCF grant process.”

The additional match monies and the costs for either improving Antler Avenue or building a loop road are “cost prohibitive,” McGee said.

While some money for the complex is already in the budget, an additional $63,536 or $96,806 would be required, depending on which road access the district chooses.

Attempts to find outside funding have been exhausted, McGee said.

Board member Robin Trenbeath requested the various options be put on a spreadsheet, so the board would have a clearer idea of what it has invested, and what the two different options would cost, before the board makes a decision.

Although the ball diamonds may not be completed, the work will be of value when the school district eventually builds a school at the site, McGee said.

Board Chair Mary Bryson reported that she had been approached by community members to consider selling the property to pay off the district’s debt.

“I would hate to see us abandon, it,” she said. “There is no land of that size available.”

While members of the Big Sky Acres Homeowners’ Association spoke in favor of such a sale, a parent Tammy Duman opposed it. “There’s not a lot of land out there (for sale),” she said. While the district may make money on the sale, it would likely incur a lot of debt when it attempted to buy new land, she said.

In other matters, the board:

– Renewed classified staff contracts with a 3.5 percent annual salary increase and filled classified staff openings;

– Discussed a property and liability insurance premium increase of $544 with Montana International Insurance, bringing the annual premium to $12,008, with a $2,500 deductible per each incident.

– Approved 5-year payment for utility costs on a pedestrian sign with flashing light to be installed by the county at the intersection of McClellan Road and the bike/walking path;

– Discussed a projected 5 percent increase in electric rates and 15 percent increase for natural gas, and agreed to adjust the draft budget accordingly by $6,500;

– Discussed offering a 1/2 year class in German for middle school students at a cost of $1,200 from the United Star Distant Learning Consortium, which offers the class via satellite link. The superintendent was directed to look into other options for offering either Spanish, French or Latin, instead;

– Set its next meetings for July 13 and Aug. 10, both at 5:30 p.m.

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