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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Jamie Ausk Crisafulli photo

DCHS parking lot continues to erode with no solution in sight

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

Since local voters passed the building reserve levy for Glendive Public Schools nearly five years ago, the school district has worked diligently to tackle what maintenance needs they can in Glendive’s aging school buildings, but there’s one badly needed project beyond the scope of what the district can do with building reserve funds — stopping a coulee from eating away at the Dawson County High School parking lot.

Along the north side of DCHS, Graveyard Coulee has for years been eating away at the edges of the school’s parking lot. In recent years, school officials have become increasingly alarmed at the rate of the erosion, which appears to be quickening, breaking off chunks of parking lot pavement and sending them tumbling into the ditch below. The fear is, if not abated, within a few years there won’t be much of a parking lot left.

Officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been to examine the issue in recent years, and DCHS Principal Wade Murphy said they concluded the erosion would continue to worsen unless something were done.

“Basically what (the Corps) said is that’s a problem and we need to fix it,” Murphy said.

The problem is there isn’t enough money in the high school district budget to do anything about it.

“We’ve heard everything from $250,000 to $2 million to fix it,” Murphy said. “We just don’t have the money for it, so we haven’t fixed it. It’s just such a big ticket item that I don’t think we’ll be able to address it where we stand right now financially.”

While the school district is looking to go back to the voters next May to ask for another building reserve levy, Murphy said he doesn’t see that being a viable avenue to solve the financing problem, given that all of the district’s aging buildings have a litany of known maintenance issues as well as a tendency for unforeseen maintenance problems to pop up every year.

“We’re not going to have enough money in a building reserve to fix it unless we didn’t fix anything in any of the buildings for the next three years,” Murphy said.

Other sources of funding appear lacking at present. Murphy said in visits with Corps officials, Glendive school administrators were told there are no funding programs available through the Corps that could help them. 

He also noted that they had been looking into the potential for some matching grants from the state. However, Murphy said “that all got taken away in the last biennium” — by the 2017 Montana Legislature, that is, which eliminated funding for the Quality Schools grant program, which had provided local school districts grants to help them finance major facility upgrades and maintenance projects.

Funding to fix the coulee erosion at DCHS was also included in the bond issue to build a new elementary school put to local voters in 2016, but that bond issue was soundly defeated.

Given all that, Murphy said he has no idea how the district is going to finance a fix for the issue. All he knows is they’re sitting on a ticking time bomb which could blow up in their face at any minute.

“It’s a mess, honestly. It could go another 20 years or it could go another 20 minutes,” he said. “I truly do want to address it, I just feel like we have our hands tied until we have a financially feasible solution.”

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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