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Pioneer School admins near Billings hopeful bond will make school more accessible

Posted at 9:06 PM, Apr 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-05 15:15:32-04

BILLINGS — It was the 1960s when administrators at Pioneer School near Billings last received a bond for new construction. Now, in an effort to increase the accessibility for students with disabilities, they're going out again to ask the voters this May.

"It's something that's been a long time coming. We haven't done this for the community in a long time. So it's its turn," said Colleen Unruh, trustee for the Pioneer School Board on Monday.

Trustee Colleen Unruh is a board member for Pioneer School and also has a student who attends classes there.

About 73 students spanning kindergarten through eighth grade are enrolled this year in the small Pioneer School District northwest of the Billings Heights. With the new Billings Bypass being constructed in the area, it seems like that end of town is only poised to grow.

"Especially with the new Lockwood interstate that's coming in. That overpass there is going to open up areas and just this area in general seems to really be getting bigger. We've noticed our younger classes are starting to get bigger," Unruh said.

A concept image of the new school campus that could come to Pioneer School near Billings if the May 3 bond passes.

The proposed construction would radically change the campus and add a new school building accessible to students with disabilities as well as much larger space for a special education classroom.

The new building would also have an accessible lunch room, so students don't have to walk down a flight of stairs to eat.

"We're seeing more special ed students that are coming in and more special needs students that are coming in and we need to be able to help them. In addition to that, we also have a lot of community members that like to come here. We're a voting hub for the area. As of right now, it's just getting hard for us to be able to take in an elderly person if they want to come in and vote. We're just not able to do that accessibly at the moment. We want to be able to," Unruh said.

The last few steps students see before entering the lunchroom in the old Pioneer School building, built in 1905.

The bond is worth $2.6 million dollars, and would cost the owner of a home in the district worth $100,000 an additional $90.47 on their annual property tax bill. If passed, it would help the school take its next step to serve the growing area near the Billings Bypass.

Administrators floated a bond in an election last year, but it failed with 63% or 221 voters who said no. The election saw a 48% turnout from the district's 720 registered voters.

If the bond passes the upcoming May 3 election, the old school house built in 1905 would remain in place as a part of the new campus. Construction would start in May 2023, with the new building hopefully complete for the start of the 2024 school year.

To learn more about the proposed construction, visit a website prepared by proponents of the bond by clicking here.

RELATED: Pioneer Elementary School near Billings expanding to keep 7th, 8th graders