What's Your Beef? The Golden Palaces

Jerry Schuster

Well, it is here folks; we have our first look at the plans for spending $144 million (probably more) for two Bozeman high schools. Just to give you some perspective, I will take you to “old town” (which is Wolf Point in northeastern Montana), for a comparison with “new town” (which is Bozeman), over how such expenditures are handled. After all, we want our children to have a positive educational experience, but what environment is needed to accomplish this goal is the question.

A few years ago, the School Board and community leaders in old town decided it was time to replace the one main gym floor at Wolf Point High School. They had struggled with the “we can get one more year out of the old one” mentality for years. There were huge bumps and cracks on the floor. When you tried to dribble a basketball on it, the surface shifted and you had no idea where the ball would end up. Sometimes, the ball would get lost and they had to start the game over. Just kidding, relax a little.

Now, a project like this is a big item for a small town. I know what you are thinking—there is no comparison with replacing a gym floor to building and remodeling two schools. It is the approach to innovative financing, getting by with resources you have, scaling down and not burdening future taxpayers that is at issue here. Stay with me, you will soon see the light.

We will stipulate that the size and scope of the projects are significantly different, so just get over it. If you don’t want to so stipulate, go read another article in this publication.

So, old town high school needed a new gym floor. Very costly item for sure. Did the School Board and community leaders say we will get a big bond issue passed and have a world class floor? No. The people in the community were united to get this job done without burdening people for the next 80 years. There were donation drop-off containers at businesses around town and lots of donation challenges. A business or organization would make a sizable pledge and challenge other similar groups to beat or match it. Gym banners were sold to community sponsors. Oh, and those humble bake sales for cookies to be sold during the home games—that’s grassroots fundraising for sure.

Also, many meetings and discussions about what was really needed were held. There were no “extras” added to the project, like remodeling the locker rooms, although it would be really nice if each player had their own shower and changing room. The cheerleaders could use a suite of rooms for practice and warm ups and the concession facilities needed more space, plus a computer-operated popcorn machine which would pop all those little kernels which end up in the bottom of the bag. No, none of that, just a good, sturdy, basic floor.

So, finally, after 47 years of basketball on the floor that was first used in 1969, a new floor was planned, designed and installed after all the funds were raised by hard work and community generosity. No big bond issue needed. The project included accommodations for disabled persons and a new scoreboard and sound system. Advertising is now allowed on the walls of the gym to carry on maintenance over the years. A lot of innovative thinking outside the box. Sagacity epitomized. A recent dedication of the new floor honored the late legendary basketball player Victor Bearskin, who was also inducted into the Montana Indian Athletic Hall of Fame. Of course, recognition and honor also went to the great coach Robert Lowry, who led the Wolves to many state basketball victories.

Here is the main point, so wake up for a few minutes. Something significant can be accomplished without burdening the next four generations with excessive long-term debt. What is needed is community involvement, a realizable goal and hard work.

Let’s move on to Bozeman. Remember, in a previous article, my proposal was to tear down the present “old” high school and build affordable housing units in that space. Then, build one gigantic new school for the community. Total cost would be under $100 million, and this town would have a nice affordable housing space. However, official support for this idea has been, should we say, tepid. It is time to move on to what the local experts and powers-that-be want, which is two “comprehensive” schools. Wait; I did have one person tell me they liked the affordable housing unit idea, but they had no kids in the school system and rented a house in Belgrade. Not fair to use that opinion.

Apparently, Bozeman needs two golden palaces for the future high school students. Some examples? Bozeman wants “one big gym plus TWO auxiliary gyms…etc. for health classes and other uses.” Rather, we should consider restricting private vehicles at the facilities for able bodied students. Most students could be required to ride the buses, which would drop them off about two miles from the buildings. With that nice walk with full backpack, most of the health/fitness needs of the day are met.

Consider, also, the long halls of the new behemoth. By the time the students make the classroom rounds in a day, they will exceed their 10,000 step Fit Bit requirement as mandated by OPI. Win/win; everybody very happy.

Now, on to other spaces in the schools. Since over three students per year wish to take auto mechanics, wood working and metal works skills, each school will have to provide state of the art facilities for these subjects. Now, to be on the safe side, each school should have two auxiliary areas for these classes, since there may be as many as ten students participating by 2037. There is a regulation against crowding.

Since only a select chosen few can actually use the main gym facilities, we will need special areas for fencing, advanced judo and meditation skills. Because skiing is so paramount here, both facilities should have their own practice ski jump auxiliary gym, with year-round snow making capabilities. Don’t forget those mandatory Olympic-size swimming pools, as we have potential world-class swimmers in training here.

Auditoriums? Yes, one big one each please. It would not be fair to continue to use the Willson Auditorium for “Hawks Night Live,” because one of the schools will no longer be the “Hawks.” This brings up an interesting topic on its own; I will give it some thought. Will the new team be the “Magpies” since they are so common around town? We might need a subcommittee to examine the environmental impact this permutation will have on the community.

Now, we are told, the community financial burden will be a small sacrifice to pay for these world class facilities. Yes, just a mere $8.00 per month per $100,000 of assessed value. Nice! Easy!! When big increases in taxes are anticipated, the cost is always presented in terms of “per month” to the public. These are like car payments or phone plans, and are a lot easier to sell than the yearly total. Problem looming: there are no $100,000 houses in Bozeman that are habitable. A good modified broom closet size starts at about $300,000. If you need something for a family, think about $450,000. Not to worry say the experts, there are lots of folks moving in from California who are glad to pay a modest increase in taxes of $1,500 per year for the next 100 years.

Bozeman will not allow “have and have not” high schools. If so, the lawsuits would continue for the duration of the 21st century, after which time there will be no need for brick and mortar buildings. All education will be handled by Big Brother via individual devices, implanted in the brain at birth.

You see, in Bozeman, we need two “have” schools. There will be a requirement that all school functions and sports funding be equal. At the end of each school year, the school that has beaten the other in competitions will be penalized for the following year. All cross-town win/loss records must be equal each year.

Welcome, all, to the golden halls of Bozeman Highs. What we end up with is anyone’s guess at this time, but it’s how the community goes about planning and discussing financial options that is important. Would you settle for “silver” palaces?

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