Lone Peak/ Big Sky File Art

Lone Peak is shown in this 2016 Chronicle file photo.

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Big Sky School District reported a record increase in its kindergarten through 12th grade enrollment as real estate purchases surge in the resort town.

Dustin Shipman, the district superintendent, estimates student enrollment grew 13% over last fall’s 374 students at its three schools — Ophir Elementary School, Ophir Middle School and Lone Peak High School.

The district is anticipating 425 students this year, with the kindergarten to fifth grade classes seeing the largest jump, he said.

“It’s more growth than we have experienced in past years,” Shipman said.

Shipman said at one point this summer, the schools were looking at a possible growth of 75 to 100 additional students, which is significant for the smaller district. As of Tuesday, the district estimated it had closer to 50 new enrollments.

He said it would take at least eight more days before the district had a clearer picture of its enrollment growth, due to its staggered start to the school year. Although the district’s first day of classes was Monday, Shipman said they have not seen every student yet because groups are kept under 50 students for the first week.

“I know that real estate is moving relatively quickly here in the community, anecdotally,” he said. Beyond that, he said it would be hard to know why the school has seen an increase in student enrollment this year.

Real estate and development leaders have reported a spike in purchases in Big Sky since the pandemic started.

Big Sky Sotheby’s International Realty reported a large increase in property purchases in its second quarter market watch report released in late-July.

“As a result of the unprecedented social changes we’re experiencing, Big Sky notably, has seen unprecedented numbers of folks moving here,” according to the report. “Buyers are out in record numbers seeking homes in our markets, while listings under contract and showings are surging over last year.”

In an Aug. 10 virtual town hall hosted by Explore Big Sky, Eric Ladd, publisher of Explore Big Sky and owner of L&K Real Estate, said about $1 billion in real estate had sold in Big Sky in the previous 90 days.

“People fleeing COVID and urban centers to come to the wide open spaces of the West and Montana is a reality,” said Candace Carr Strauss, CEO of the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce.

Strauss also said the town has seen a significant amount of second-home owners decide to make Big Sky their permanent residence. Second-home owners are roughly 70% of owners in town, she said.

Shipman said the schools have been able to accommodate the new students, and the smaller student groups in the district’s graduated start has been helpful.

“We’re trying to hire additional staff now, both due to an increase in student population and also to have additional resources to support students as we bring them back on campus,” he said.

A physical expansion is also in the works for the school district.

In May, voters passed a $23.5 million bond for the school district to expand classroom, gym space and common areas at the Ophir Middle School and Lone Peak High School and put in a turf field.

Stauss said while there is anxiety and stress in Big Sky related to the pandemic, the economy and the uncertainty of what’s to come, there is also a lot of gratitude.

“We’ve seen the other side and it’s not a great place to be,” she said, referring to the area’s economic downturn following the Great Recession. “We’re grateful for the growth and the visitation.”

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.