Voters in Jefferson High School’s district approved a $12.5 million bond issue that is slated to fund the school's most significant improvements in more than 30 years.
1,678 people voted for the bond, and 1,077 voted against it, according to JHS Clerk and Business Manager Lorie Carey. The preliminary results were unofficial, she said in a text message sharing the preliminary ballot tally at 1:49 a.m. on Nov. 3. Ballots, which had been mailed to voters, were due back on Nov. 2 and were counted into the early morning on Nov. 3.
The district's plan for renovations and expansion, developed with SMA Architects, a Helena firm with a focus on school construction, seeks both to catch up with education standards and to remedy the effects of decades of patchwork growth. SMA previously estimated that design and permitting for the work would take about a year, followed by approximately 16–18 months of construction. Depending on when that process begins and how long contracting takes, that could mean completion in time for the start of school in 2024.
The district's plan envisions a new, two-story structure added to the east end of the existing school building. It would include five regular classrooms with mobile tables to encourage small-group work; new spaces for art, music and band, and special education; and two large science rooms accommodating both lectures and labs. The current labs, Superintendent Tim Norbeck told The Monitor previously, are "functional, but not highly functional.”
The new wing would bring classes currently taught in the separate modular into the main building, Norbeck said—saving students a trip across the yard to use restrooms, for one thing, but also reducing disruption and improving security. SMA's plan also would add space for Career and Technical Education classes such as drafting, cooking, woods, and metals. And it would convert the existing band and music room into a drama classroom, with flexible partitions separating the existing stage and the new space on one side, and the old gym on the other.
The bond is projected to add $160.65 annually to the estimated property taxes on a $300,000 home, and it actually represents a middle path amid the options recently considered by JHS trustees. Last December, the district surveyed voters on alternative strategies to address the school's growing student population and the need for infrastructural improvements. Of those who responded, 17% supported moving Jefferson High to the northern end of the county. Another 16.7% preferred a bare bones upgrade, and 38.2% said they wanted no changes.
Construction similar to the current bonding plan was favored by 27.6% of respondents. And in January, the district board voted to abandon the possibility of a new north-end campus and to pursue the more comprehensive renovation. That decision was a nod to the need for more than superficial improvements to the school's plant, and also to the perception that Jefferson High increasingly competes for students with schools—notably, the newly built East Helena High School—that offer newer campuses better geared to evolving teaching and learning approaches.
A full description of the bond measure, and the school’s pitch to voters, was printed in the Oct. 13 issue of The Monitor and is available online.