By Tom Kuglin, Excerpt from the Helena Independent Record
East Helena Public Schools’ acceptance of about 50 donated acres comes with environmental cleanup costs but also a vision for future school expansion.
The school district expects to soon close on the Dartman property just north on Valley Drive from Radley School — a donation from the Montana Environmental Trust Group, which owns the land and controls assets from the Asarco settlement.
While no specific plans are proposed for new school construction, the district feels it needs to be proactive as it approaches capacity with anticipated future growth, said Superintendent Ron Whitmoyer. With current enrollment at about 1,200 students, a 1,300-student capacity and new housing going up, school officials believe facilities accommodating about 1,800 students are needed.
“It may not be today but maybe 10 years down the road we need to plan to the future,” he said. “So we’re looking at the property as a long-term investment.”
Dartman has advantages over other properties the district considered in a 2014 Great West Engineering feasibility report, Whitmoyer noted. The location allows connection to East Helena city services. Estimated cleanup costs also fell lower than other sites. And remediating the property, which has elevated lead levels, progresses the community as it deals with the challenges of Superfund status.
“The kind of cool thing here is the piece of property is currently contaminated and has limited usage,” Whitmoyer said. “Through this deal we can take this property, remediate it and put it back into a healthy condition for the health of the community.”