The Bozeman School Board will decide Monday night whether to ask voters to approve $26.3 million in bonds to build Bozeman’s eighth elementary school and to expand and upgrade two existing school buildings.

Administrators recommend the board put just one question on the May 8 ballot, rather than asking Bozeman elementary district voters to decide separately on the four proposed uses for the money.

The bonds would raise $19 million to build the new elementary school; $1.2 million to buy land at Durston and Flanders Mill roads for the new school and a future middle school, plus annexation costs; $3.2 million to renovate and expand Longfellow School; and $2.8 million to help upgrade and expand the Support Services building, which houses the central school kitchen.

“All those projects are necessary to meet the growth needs of the school district,” Superintendent Kirk Miller said last week. “I believe strongly our ability to do this now paves the path for our future.”

Even though Bozeman built its seventh elementary school just three years ago, student enrollment continues to grow in the youngest grades. The elementary schools are full now with 2,751 students, and at the rate new kindergartners are arriving, the district could be 400 students over capacity by the time the new school opens in 2014, Miller said.

“It’s pretty clear we need the school and we need it now,” he said.

If voters approve the bond issue, it would raise school property taxes on a home with a state-assessed value of $100,000 by $13.30 next year. The cost would be higher — $24.50 — if considered by itself. However, in 2013 Bozeman taxpayers will pay off the last of the 20-year bonds for constructing Sacajawea Middle School, thus easing the impact of the tax hike by $11.30 next year.

Officials estimate the new school would cost more than Hyalite Elementary for several reasons. The biggest is that, after listening to teachers and staff who use the three schools based on Hyalite’s design, architects and school officials are recommending the new school be larger, with a separate cafeteria and gym, rather than combining those in one room.

The Support Services building was built in 1993, when Bozeman had 4,800 students, and today with Bozeman’s 5,800 students, it isn’t big enough, Miller said. It houses the central school kitchen, warehouse, print shop and science kit storage. The expansion plan would cost $4.2 million total, but part of the cost would be paid by the legally separate the Bozeman high school district.

Longfellow School is the last of Bozeman’s four Depression-era schools to get an upgrade to its heating, ventilation and electrical systems, plus new energy-efficient windows. Miller said it would take five years to save up enough money to do the renovation, but that’s too long to tie up all the elementary building repair funds and forego all preventive maintenance. So he’s recommending borrowing the money through bonds instead.

With interest rates and construction costs both low right now, Miller said, “it’s a good time to move forward” on all the bond projects.

“When a community invests in its public schools,” he said, “that serves children and student success improves, the economy improves, the number of productive citizens increases and the quality of life in our community will grow.”

School Board trustees will meet at 6 p.m. in the board room of Willson School, 404 W. Main St. The complete agenda can be seen on the district website, (www.bsd7.org).

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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