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The Big Sky School District has secured the funding and the support of the Gallatin County Commission to build affordable housing for school employees.

The district will build two triplexes near Ophir Elementary School and Lone Peak High School, which will be rented to employees for about 30% of their monthly income. Three two-bedroom units will be available in late October with the remaining three to be built in 2020.

The commissioners unanimously approved the project on Tuesday, saying they hope it will serve as a model for affordable housing across the state.

“I think it is a great solution to the problem the school district is having up there, and I am optimistic that it will serve a lot of employees,” said Commissioner Joe Skinner.

The school district is partnering with Habitat for Humanity of Gallatin Valley, which is able to purchase materials at below market rates and is using local volunteers to help with construction, said executive director David Magistrelli.

The project will be funded with $400,000 from the Big Sky Resort Tax Board and a $600,000 mill levy that voters approved in the May school district elections.

The new housing is being built to address the school district‘s difficulty recruiting and retaining employees in a rural, expensive area.

“Teacher housing in Big Sky is a critical issue we need to address. …,” said IB Curriculum Coordinator Marlo Mitchem. “Attracting and retaining excellent and high-quality teachers is essential for any community to thrive.”

According to employee surveys, many employees leave the Big Sky School District because they can’t find long-term affordable housing in Big Sky or because of lengthy commutes from West Yellowstone or the Bozeman area, said Trustee Whitney Littman.

“It’s of great importance to the fabric of our community that the people who work here live here,” she said.

Alex Ide, principal of Ophir Middle School and Lone Peak High School, said job candidates often turn down his offers because they can’t find housing. He added that those who accept positions in the district often have to live far away and struggle to get to Big Sky during the winter, leaving him scrambling to find substitutes.

Jeremy Harder, the longest-serving teacher in the district, has seen the effects of Big Sky’s housing issues firsthand.

“I lost count at 37 as the number of people I’ve seen come and go in my 20 years with the district,” he said. “It’d be very naive to say that they all left because of housing, but I could say that at least half of them left because of the commute to Bozeman or they couldn’t afford housing for their families.”

Savannah Rose Horwood, an Ophir Elementary School teacher, said she hopes to take advantage of the new housing. She said she and her coworkers often work second jobs to afford rent in Big Sky and they struggle to find long-term housing they can afford.

“Giving this housing opportunity that is affordable in relation to the teacher salary will keep great, passionate, enthusiastic teachers in the Big Sky district,” she said.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at 406-582-2648 or at Follow her on Twitter @PerrinStein.

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