Hamilton School Bond High School

Consolidating to three campuses is part of the plan for reducing the footprint and expenses of Hamilton Schools. Voters will decide whether to pass a $400,000 levy and nearly $10 million dollar bond on May 25.

MICHELLE MCCONNAHA michelle.mcconnaha@ravallirepublic.com

Our family moved to the Bitterroot Valley with three babies in tow at the height of the Hamilton Civil War Disagreement over the construction of the new high school.

As we retire the bond that funded that magnificent facility, those three children have grown, attended every year of school in Hamilton and are now thriving college students. With honest hindsight, I think we can all agree that constructing our high school was worth every cent.

My three HHS graduates, like many others, were well prepared for the rigors of D-1 college academics with good ACT scores, hard-earned AP credits and well-rounded resumes of community service, musical training and sports involvement. All three were brave enough to walk-on college sports teams and one is headed to a national championship next week. I have two younger children still attending Hamilton Schools and experiencing the same quality educational and extra-curriculum opportunities.

Over the years, I have mortified my kids with over-involvement and then also been reprimanded by my youngest for not volunteering enough. When I’ve been disappointed with teachers or bullies or coaches, I’ve found avenues to air grievances and in most cases, work cooperatively toward solutions. I have shed tears during parent/teacher conferences for reasons at both ends of the emotional spectrum and am grateful to have teamed up with Hamilton School District in helping my kids turn weaknesses into strengths and strengths into talents.

I have been asked by concerned neighbors, community members and close friends about my opinion on the proposed bond and levy and I reiterate here that I am absolutely voting yes.

As a former employee of this newspaper, I’ve developed a great love for the legacy and history of this valley. I’m sincerely grateful the old high school is still in use with its creaking wood floor in the main hallway where thousands have trod and its quality wood floor in the (now) middle school gym where physical activity is provided to all. The new funding would continue the momentum of middle school upgrades for future students including possibly the fifth graders, which could greatly enhance educational opportunities if they were insulated with social segregation. It’s an acceptable idea as long as we accommodate the fifth graders’ need for an outside recess on grass.

As a long-time board member on the Bitterroot Performing Arts Council, I am grateful for the vision of the 1990s school boards in constructing a performing arts center where hundreds of world-class performers have been invited to entertain as well as educate our school children in outreach classes. New funding would ideally provide direly needed upgrades and maintenance to that wonderful resource at the high school and its programming for students, community members and businesses who benefit from the influx of out-of-town guests.

Hopefully, coming closer to fully funding the district would mean reducing the steeply climbing rental fees so productions (like The Nutcracker, for one) could become feasible again.

A majority of the funding for the proposed bond would be directed to remodeling Daly Elementary. If we have learned anything from the past, let us improve that facility to match our high school. Let our children be educated by the best teachers who don’t have to endure pass-through classrooms and an inadequate gym/cafeteria.

If recruiting and retaining the best teachers while remodeling Daly and constructing an adequate gym and much-needed kitchen were the absolute only reasons for the new funding, it would be well worth the community investment. Luckily, Daly improvements are not contingent on selling Washington Elementary - which is only a vague idea at the moment. We can cross that bridge – if and when – we come to it.

While we can’t control the University of Montana’s interests in the Bitterroot College, selling the Westview Center and the surrounding 15 acres is one of those critical junctures for the future of higher education in the Bitterroot – if and when an offer is presented.

In 20 years, I hope we can look back at this time and see that Hamilton residents succeeded in providing, not inhibiting, those opportunities for smart development. But for now, the bond has nothing to do with selling Westview.

Which leads me to the highly debated topic of moving HHS’s athletic facilities to adjacent property near the school. While the vista is truly breathtaking while watching the sun set during a fall football game at Haynes Field, the truth is – it’s time!

I especially felt that way last fall when sitting in the rain to watch a freshman football game. My fourth grader bounded up the bleachers for cover and jumped on our stadium chair. As she curled up in a ball and pulled a blanket over her, the inertia of the motion sent her unsecured seat flying backwards through the wide space between the splintered wooden bleachers. She dropped at least 15 feet to the ground and shocked everyone who witnessed it – especially her. Because of the padded chair, her curled up position and maybe a guardian angel, she was protected from injury when she hit the ground, but I join the ranks who know that the current configuration is entirely unsafe.

I should add, on that rainy day, the unimproved parking lot was literally a pond with cars using the side streets instead, thus inviting even more safety hazards in town.

As for Hayne’s dirt track that’s unsuitable for competition, the arrangement for Hamilton to host track meets in Corvallis should be deemed transitionary, not permanent.

I’ve always been impressed with the student athletes I’ve interviewed for sports features over the years. Without fail, every time I’ve written about a Corvallis state champion track star, they have unequivocally given credit to their community for their personal success. “They believed in me and provided this wonderful track, so I want to do my best and make them proud,” is a quote I’ve recorded again and again. Hamilton can do the same with a consolidated sports complex for tennis, football, softball and soccer near the school – especially with alumni support, which I would heavily encourage. Plus we’re already prepared with adequate parking.

For those who are still incredulous of the bond proposal, I would encourage you to spend more time with our school children. Be like Dave Schlecten, a retired architect who constructs sets for Hamilton’s high school musicals. Or Steve Wilson who wheels into Daly and teaches children to paint. Or any of our over-qualified substitutes who provide a day of wisdom and fresh perspective to students of all ages based on rich life’s experiences. I encourage you to create more school-to-work internships or alternative skilled training opportunities.

As I’ve traveled around the state for sports and school events, I am proud of my Hamilton School District license plate. I’m also resigned to the fact that we all can’t be like Kalispell with its fully funded orchestra, or Darby High with its homemade entrees served at concessions. But we can continue the exponential momentum for making Hamilton a great place to train our kids for a productive adult life with appreciation for their community who invested in their future and provide resources for a quality, well-rounded education.

Ultimately, voting yes to the proposed bond and levy is an act of trust in our school board and superintendent. But it doesn’t have to be blind trust. Get involved, get informed and interact with youth – it will truly be your best investment of time and resources. If nothing else, vote yes and watch the windfall of accomplishments that follow.

– Stacie Duce, Hamilton

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