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Under a steady drizzle, the 16 chosen students from Daly Elementary patiently leaned on their golden shovels as they awaited the signal Tuesday afternoon.

That is, all but one.

Second-grader Ryan Fagerstrom couldn’t quite contain her excitement about being in the forefront of the groundbreaking event that heralded a dramatic upgrade to her Hamilton school.

While the others stood by quietly, an animated Fagerstrom waved to the crowd and even danced a bit.

“It’s a pretty exciting day,” said Daly Elementary Principal Nate Lant as he stepped in front of the student body gathered before an excavator. “Today we’re going to dig the first hole that will eventually give us almost a brand-new school.”

It had been 50 years since the first group of Hamilton residents had gathered near the same site to perform the same ceremony for the first Daly Elementary.

Over the next year and a half, construction crews will add a little over 28,000 square feet to the eastern side of the school. When complete, the addition will house 12 classrooms, a gymnasium and a new office that will serve as the entryway into the building.

Hamilton School Superintendent Tom Korst said the district initially opted to put the brakes on asking for bids this summer on the Daly project after seeing other school districts in the state face higher costs than anticipated due to a booming construction market.

Waiting just over a month to reach out to builders turned out to be a good plan.

Korst said the bid came in $350,000 under the initial estimate the district had received from the Jackson Construction Group. But the good news was tempered when the expected completion date was pushed back about six months to February 2020.

“It might have been tough even if we had put the bids out in July to meet that earlier completion date of the start of school next fall,” Korst said. “There is a lot of construction occurring in the state and local area right now.”

Voters approved a $9.75 million bond in May 2017 to remodel and expand Daly Elementary and build a new sports complex at the high school.

Once the construction is complete at Daly Elementary, the new building will house grades kindergarten through fourth. The fifth grade transitioned this year to the Hamilton Middle School.

The footprint of the building project at Daly Elementary has changed from what was first presented to the public, after the district opted to move the addition to the east at the city’s request to improve traffic flow by creating an entrance off Kurtz Lane.

The redesign reduced the overall square footage of the building, but increased the number of new classrooms from eight to 12. Four interior classrooms will be combined to create a 3,500-square-foot library. The new gym will have the same footprint as the middle school gymnasium.

“I’m glad the city alerted us to the change of moving traffic from Daly to Kurtz,” Korst said. “We had to crumple up the old blueprints and start over. By doing that, we have come up with something far superior to what we had. … At the end of the day, we’re going to have a really nice elementary building that will serve us well into the future.”

Direct construction cost of the entire project is roughly $7 million. The addition will cost about $5.7 million. Remodeling the classrooms and library is expected to cost about $1.3 million.

To pay for the project, the district will combine funds from bond with a low-interest state loan of about $1.3 million.

Korst said the district currently has an existing low-interest loan that paid for a technology upgrade that will be paid by 2020.

“We’ll be able to trade out one loan for the other,” Korst said. “The stars all kind of lined up to make this work.”

Work on the new sports complex is expected to wrap up around the first of November. It will include a 10-lane track and soccer dimension field.

“I think people are going to be happy about that when it completed,” he said.

Korst expects work to get underway at Daly Elementary in the next couple of days.

A former Daly Mustang will take the lead in getting that project started.

Paul Jackson of Hamilton — no relation to the Jackson Construction Group family — went to school at Daly Elementary in the mid-1980s. He’ll now serve as construction superintendent at his alma mater.

“It’s going to be a fun project to do,” Jackson said. “It’s time. It’s something that’s needed here.”

Jackson said the construction company will work on the foundation and walls of the addition through the winter.

“And from there, we’ll just keep plugging along until it’s done,” he said. “I’m sure that it will have its challenges, but I’m not expecting there to be too many.”

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Associate Editor

Reporter for The Ravalli Republic.