School Maintenance and “Out of the Box” Thinking

Time on the school board has brought building maintenance and neglect thereof to my mind.  Unfortunately, the only school that has done a respectable job is Fortine.  Here at Trego, we received a new school at Federal expense in the mid-sixties so that the community would be capable of serving the many kids who came in with parents working on the tunnel and railroad relocation.  Fifty years went by without establishing a building reserve fund or a maintenance schedule.  A new building doesn’t need much maintenance – but planning for maintenance, scheduling maintenance, and having a building reserve to pay for maintenance keeps from having to call for a special levy and passing a bond.  We have started the building reserve fund – but it should have been started at least 25 years earlier.

It’s easy to defer maintenance.  There is always someone who needs money for a different purpose – and the building stands quietly when it is short-changed.  I have a lot of respect for the school boards that stay conscious of the fact that it’s cheaper (in the long run) to maintain the school than go to the voters to authorize a bond to build a new one. 

So I’m reading the Tobacco Valley News, and I notice that we’re not alone – Rebecca Nelson’s article (p5, V62, I42) tells of Eureka’s woes:

“Mepham said he believed the bond wouldn’t have passed, but that the district absolutely needs new buildings.  “To put all our money into one K-4 building with the idea that someday we’re gonna get some more money and put it into the junior high, that’s good in theory, but the bottom line is, that means the junior high would have to make 20 more years in the condition it’s in.” he said.

Mepham reminded the board of a 2007 facilities report which he said essentially put the junior high as the worst facility in Montana, with the elementary close behind.  Now the most urgent needs are for a boiler at the junior high and a roof for the high school, each with a price tag of at least a quarter of a million dollars.  “We’re going to nickel and dime this district to death.” he said.”

Tobacco Valley News, article by Rebecca Nelson

That’s an interesting choice of words – the purpose of a building reserve fund is to accumulate nickels and dimes so that the school can have the funds to pay for maintenance projects as they are needed – without passing special levies.

Mepham acknowledged the restrictions of the elementary district’s bonding capacity and rising construction costs, and suggested it might be good to think outside the box and make use of the higher bonding capacity of the high school district, to build a new high school and junior high and remodel the current high school as an elementary.”

Tobacco Valley News, article by Rebecca Nelson

I’m not sure that turning Lincoln County High School into an elementary is out of the box thinking. There was a boiler in the building when I attended LCHS, and I have a strong suspicion that folks thought outside the box and made use of the higher bonding capacity of the high school district then remodeled my old school into Eureka Middle School.  If I’m reading the tea leaves correctly, Superintendent Mepham wants to get the taxpayers of Trego and Fortine to help pay for a new high school so that the old one can go to replace the unmaintained buildings in Eureka.  Sweet Jesus, Mepham, can’t you even bring a box of chocolates first? 

Darris Flanagan’s book: Eureka Montana Standing the Tests of Time, on p.20 tells of the origins of this “outside the box” scheme: “In 1955 a new grade school was built.  A major administration change occurred in when a joint board with LCHS and Roosevelt Grade School operating together just as they still do today.  Voting is complicated with Trego and Fortine board members voting only when an item concerns the high school.”

I think that translates something like “The LCHS board members from Eureka can outvote the two from Trego and Fortine.”  It’s good to get a little bit of a heads-up before they come to us with a tax levy for a bigger bond. 

Flanagan also pointed out “In 1955 a new grade school was built.”  That’s less than a dozen years older than Trego.  I’m not sure that we shouldn’t be looking at building a high school in Fortine – they have a record of maintaining their buildings.

1 thought on “School Maintenance and “Out of the Box” Thinking”

  1. My high school is still standing and serving 2000 young people daily.
    Leaves me scratching my head, but I think you’re on to something.


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