Hamilton School District Superintendent Tom Korst said that the two projects on the drawing board, the renovation and expansion of Daly Elementary School and the construction of a new track and field at the High School, were moving forward despite some significant challenges. Both projects are being financed by a voter approved $9.75 million bond.
According to Korst, when the district went public with its plans for the Daly School addition last fall, they received some significant comments from the City of Hamilton suggesting that the school district consider modifying its entranceway by moving it onto Kurtz Lane and off of Daly Avenue. Korst said that the concerns and the suggestion were taken to heart by the school board despite the difficulties involved in making the changes.
“It made a lot of sense,” said Korst, “but it essentially meant starting over. So we worked right through the Christmas break. A month ago a few of the board members were pretty nervous about it all, but they are happy now. In the end we are grateful for the challenge because it has made it a better project over all.”
Plans call for the relocation of the school’s athletic fields from Haynes Field, the old football stadium by the river, to a new facility being constructed at the current high school. One aspect of the plan that has drawn some criticism from the public is the proposal to use synthetic turf instead of natural grass for the playing fields. Korst said that he has heard concerns about the use of synthetic turf over safety questions and ultimate costs for maintenance and replacement.
According to Korst, when synthetic turf first came into use it encountered immediate criticism from many experts for being too hard, too abrasive, and too expensive to maintain. He said initially the turf was being made from old tires.
“That has all changed now,” said Korst. He said a second generation of synthetic turf addressed some of those concerns, and now a third generation of synthetic turf is being used by many schools. He said after investigation of their options, schools in Bozeman, Helena, Great Falls, Missoula and Ronan have all gone to synthetic turf.
Korst said that it was an issue that needed to be addressed and would be addressed in the process.
“We need to have a community discussion about this,” he said. But he also cautioned that people should be aware that some of the studies available on the costs and dangers of synthetic turf are outdated and do not apply to the material being used presently.
Plans for the renovation and addition to the Daly Elementary school include construction of a dozen new classrooms surrounding a gymnasium. The internal part of the existing building will be remodeled into a 3,200-square-foot library, and a central kitchen area.