Montana City School is rethinking an infrastructure project after receiving only a fraction of the funding it sought from a one-time-only Montana Department of Commerce program.

“It was great to find out we were a grant recipient, but the amount awarded is only one-third of the estimated cost of the project as designed,” Montana City School Superintendent Tony Kloker said by email.

The school sought $229,750 for a $254,750 project to install a new well and well house due to the contamination of its existing well. It was awarded a grant of $74,529.

“With our enrollment shooting up to over 500 students and the school only increasing the operational levy two times in the last eight years, we do not have funds to cover the other two-thirds of the estimated cost to complete the project,” Kloker wrote.

The funding came from the Delivering Local Assistance program, which was created in the 2019 legislative session and appropriated $21.5 million for infrastructure projects in communities impacted by “a growth or decline associated with coal, oil, gas or timber development,” according to the Department of Commerce website. Grants were to be distributed equally between local governments and local school districts, and the program was authorized only for the 2021 Biennium.

Emilie Saunders, a spokesperson for the Department of Commerce, said in an email that demand for infrastructure funding through the program was high.

“We received an astounding 191 applications requesting nearly $83 million ... for a $21.5 million program,” she wrote. “Every single application we received demonstrated a vital need. However, because of funding restrictions, this one-time program funds the most critically needed projects.”

Twenty-eight awards totaling $11.36 million were made to schools and 17 awards totaling $10.13 million were made to local governments, Saunders wrote.

Kloker listed three options the school would consider: change the project scope “to lower the cost with the same goal of getting a new source of drinking water”; using monies the school will collect for leasing its property to the county as a temporary landfill site during reconstruction of the Montana City landfill; and looking for other grants or loans to apply for.

“At the same time, we will continue to focus on the main priority of ensuring we have sufficient funding to cover the increased operational costs associated with educating more students,” he wrote.

Saunders wrote that projects must meet startup conditions, including their financing package, by Sept. 30.

The school’s project was the only one of five county infrastructure projects seeking funding to receive any.

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