Monday marked a major milestone in East Helena’s long journey toward building the community’s first high school.
“Thank you for coming out tonight for this – what I’m going to call an epic moment in time in the history of East Helena,” said East Helena Public Schools Superintendent Ron Whitmoyer.
School district leaders welcomed dozens of people from around the community to the official groundbreaking for the new East Helena High School.
“This has just been a great day – a great, great sense of accomplishment, and just a great feeling to be able to be on this,” said Scott Walter, chair of the East Helena School District Board of Trustees.
Leaders in East Helena have advocated for years for a chance to build a high school. Over three sessions of the Montana Legislature, they asked lawmakers to give several elementary school districts – including East Helena – the opportunity to ask residents whether they wanted their own high school. The Legislature finally passed the bill in 2017.
In November 2017, East Helena voters approved looking into building a high school. They then passed a $29.5 million bond issue to pay for the school in May 2018.
“It’s nice to know that the community had a voice,” said Karen Goldsberry, who led the campaign for an East Helena High School, then was elected to the school board. “It’s always been about voices. We heard their voice, they wanted it, and we followed through. This is because of the community.”
Monday’s ceremony kicks off what is expected to be about a year and a half of construction work at the site on Dartman Field, just off Valley Drive north of the Lewis and Clark Search and Rescue building.
“It looks like they’re ready to rock and roll,” Whitmoyer said. “They’re talking about beginning actual moving of dirt as early as next week, if they can’t get it yet this week, which is unbelievable.”
The new facility is set to open in fall of 2020. But East Helena High School will hold its first classes this August, in unused classrooms at East Valley Middle School. District leaders say about 110 of the 135 eligible eighth-graders signed up for the first freshman class.
Whitmoyer said they are working on ways to separate the new freshmen from the middle school, so they can begin developing a new East Helena High School identity.
“We’re looking forward to watching them take us and start to establish traditions that are going to last for the next 100 years,” he said.
Walter agreed that the students will be central to the new East Helena High School.
“At the end of the day, it’s not the building; it’s what goes on inside the building,” he said. “After we get the building built and get the kids in there, it’s going to be exciting to see the success that we’re able to produce as a result of that.”
“I can’t wait to see it,” Goldsberry said. “We are a family, we’re going to always be a family, and it’s going to be great to see this building come together and come alive.”
Lockwood School District, near Billings, also got the opportunity to build a high school through the Legislature’s 2017 action. That school will also hold its first classes this fall. Whitmoyer said leaders are planning a football game against Lockwood to be East Helena High School’s first homecoming celebration.
-Reported by Jonathon Ambarian/MTN News