Stumps now stand along Flanders Mill Road where old cottonwood trees are being cut down as part of the construction of Bozeman’s eighth elementary school.

While some members of the public were dismayed to see the long line of trees being chopped down just north of Durston Road, school and construction officials said they really had no choice.

Safety is one major concern, School Superintendent Rob Watson said Friday.

“The cottonwoods, they’re falling down,” Watson said. Most of the trees are near the end of their life span, so they’re dropping branches and failing, he said. “They’re a safety hazard for students.”

Roger Davis, project manager for Langlas Construction, agreed, saying that there is a barbed wire fence intertwined in the old trees, as well as pieces of old cars and other junk. And, he said, there’s the chance that some students would be allergic to cottonwoods or would grab sticks that could be dangerous on the playground.

Voters approved a $26 million bond issue last May to build the new school, to keep up with Bozeman’s rapidly growing number of elementary students, and to renovate two other buildings.

When the school district purchased the 40-acre parcel and annexed it into the city of Bozeman, the city required fixing Flanders Mill Road, Watson said. The old county road was discovered to be “in the wrong place,” he said, running over property owned by neighbors to the east, instead in the legal right of way. The school district is looking into a couple options, such as purchasing the land or moving the road to the west.

“If we don’t have to move it, we still have to improve it,” Watson said. That means building sidewalks and gutters, expanding the road and possibly covering the ditch.

New trees will be planted to the west as part of the landscaping plan, he said.

Meanwhile, construction of the new school is “clicking along really well,” Watson said.

So well, in fact, that school officials hope to open the new school at least partially by August, rather than in 2014, Watson said. The school is tentatively expected to be finished by November.

If the city would allow partial occupancy, that would help avoid the crowding expected this fall in Bozeman’s elementary schools.

Davis said the new school is right on schedule.

“Construction’s going great, the weather’s been cooperating,” he said.

Over the entire project, Davis said, the new school will have created about 110 jobs.

Steve Langlas, one of the construction company’s owners, said some of the carpenters used wood from the old cottonwoods to build benches for the nearby nonprofit Willson Preschool.

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

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