Gallatin Gateway school

A man and a small dog in a golf cart drive by the historic Gallatin Gateway School on Friday, Sept. 25, 2020. The local school board is considering whether to tear down the schoolhouse, built in 1914.

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The Gallatin Gateway School District board will decide the future of a historic schoolhouse next week as a group of parents push to save it.

The school building committee voted unanimously on Wednesday to recommend razing the 1914 schoolhouse and building a new one in its place, according to Theresa Keel, superintendent of the district.

“Generations have gone to school in that building and we need to honor that, but we also need to honor the future,” she said.

It was one of two options presented to the committee from the design firm, Cushing Terrell. The second plan would remodel the existing historic schoolhouse.

The board will vote on what plan to put forward for the February bond vote during an in-person meeting on Oct. 1, at 6:30 p.m., at the Gallatin Gateway Community Center. The special meeting will also be livestreamed via Zoom.

Lessa Racow, a parent with the school, said it was hard to hear the building might be demolished.

“That building’s identity is the heart and soul of the Gateway community and once it’s gone that will never be replaced,” she said.

Racow, who created a Facebook group to rally supporters of the schoolhouse, said she was concerned residents’ voices had not been heard and taxpayer money would go toward a design they don’t want.

“I’m concerned that a bond won’t go forward without a plan to keep the historic building,” she said.

Keel said she went into Wednesday’s meeting wanting to keep the historic building but was ultimately swayed by the additional space to grow if a new building was constructed.

“I wanted to keep the 1914 building, it’s a hallmark when you come down our road here,” she said.

“But when I saw the numbers side-by-side in terms of square footage for the cost and growth, I changed my mind and that happened to several of us.”

Keel said the two plans presented to the building committee cost roughly the same but the replacement concept would give an additional 4,000 square feet of space for the school.

“We don’t want to go out for a bond over and over again,” Keel said. “We’re trying to be very forward thinking on what’s going on.”

She said one of the main priorities identified by residents in the months of planning was maximizing the tax dollars that would be spent in a bond and keeping an eye toward growth.

“It really boiled down to future growth, planning for that future growth, and for the money we’re spending that we get the most square footage and the best use for our students,” she said. “If we’re going to go out to bond, we want to make sure we’re going out with the best use of that money.”

Even with a remodel, the basement of the historic schoolhouse would not be able to house classrooms and its flooding issue would only be limited, not fixed, Keel said.

Residents have two more opportunities to provide feedback before a decision is made by the board, which delayed the initial vote from Sept. 16 to October in hopes of getting more input.

“We’ve done surveys, held open meetings,” she said about the bond process, which started in March. “We welcome the feedback but we really have not had a lot of participation in all of those invitations.”

She is hosting a Zoom discussion on Monday at 6 p.m., and public comment can be made during Thursday’s school board meeting.

She said since the building committee voted on its recommendation Wednesday, the district has heard increased feedback from residents.

“That’s spectacular,” she said. “We’re encouraging people to be present and have their voices heard. We encourage constructive conversation in that feedback and to participate in the process.”

Racow said she was also encouraging people to attend the meetings next week.

“Regardless of how they view it, I would like to see community members show up and provide input,” she said.

Racow said as a fourth-generation Montanan, history was important to her.

“Montanans have deep roots, and we care about our history,” she said. “To see these historic structures cast to the side like they’re insignificant hurts the heart.

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

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