Habitat for Humanity teacher housing effort advances

Big Sky School District looks to voters for funds
“As a public entity, it’s even more exciting. If it’s supported, it’ll send a strong message that the community is behind the school, which is what we want,” he said. “This was a creative way to attempt to solve this ourselves, in a fiscally responsible manner – to partner with an organization that’s respected and well-known for providing homes and hope.”

Six or so months ago the Big Sky School District board of directors met in the Ophir Elementary cafeteria for their regular monthly meeting – a fresh batch of teachers was just settling in to the new school year. Some hailed from locales far from Big Sky, and were likely still reeling from the struggle they’d found when attempting to secure housing in Big Sky for the school year.

In the board meeting audience, seated at a colorful, round lunch table was mustachioed Dave Magistrelli, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Gallatin Valley, Inc. He and his wife listened as the board went over their regular goings-on, before being invited to address the district’s representatives about a unique opportunity – the chance for a collaboration between BSSD and Habitat to bring affordable housing to its teachers.

The goal was to address the lack of housing in Big Sky’s school district – one of the fastest growing in Montana – on its own terms. As BSSD Superintendent Dustin Shipman noted, there exists a desperate need for not just affordable housing, but housing in general, in Big Sky and his teachers are at risk of being excluded from the community. 

Zip through the following months, in which the board researched its ability to use the land it already owned to build housing – it could – as well as other investigations related to the project, and the board’s Teacher Housing Committee, with BSSD Superintendent Dustin Shipman included, found the housing pieces falling into place quite nicely. Habitat was finding the same – their willingness to work with the district remained strong.

Public support for the project also seemed to exist – after reading about the housing effort in the local papers one citizen who wished to remain anonymous even donated funds to Habitat specifically earmarked for the project.

This week Habitat announced in a press release its official partnership with BSSD to bring the effort to fruition – the plan is to bring two triplexes for teacher housing on school district property.

As the release states, Habitat, “following their tried and true method of using volunteers and partnerships to build housing well below market rates will construct the triplexes, ultimately passing ownership to the school district.”

Each individual unit is planned to have two bedrooms and be highly energy efficient. Using both the resources of the BSSD and Habitat’s, the projected cost for the two triplexes is just around $900,000.

In order to make it happen, the BSSD is now reaching out to the community, asking Big Sky to support the project through a levy of $600,000 for project infrastructure and one triplex. In addition, Habitat will be seeking support from the Big Sky Resort Tax Board to cover the balance of the cost and the project.

“We’re thrilled as a district to be able to give our constituents the opportunity to support this project,” Shipman said. “The board has been extremely cognizant of the issue facing our teacher population here in Big Sky – market prices are excluding them from becoming members of the community.”

The collaboration between BSSD and Habitat just might be the solution; Habitat expressed its pleasure in working with BSSD in its recent news release, noting potential for other projects of the sort across Montana.

“Habitat applauds the creative solutions put forward in this partnership,” said Magistrelli. “The idea of using district land and Habitat project expertise to create affordable, sustainable rental units for teachers is a likely template for other districts around the state. We look forward to working with the Big Sky community on this effort.”

With the levy vote on the May 7 election ballot, the BSSD is now reaching out to its community to garner support for the $600,000 levy for teacher housing. Informational sessions are scheduled for the coming weeks, the first set for April 2 at 6 p.m.

Shipman is hopeful Big Sky will recognize the value of the project, reiterating his excitement that the months-long effort is truly gaining ground.

“As a public entity, it’s even more exciting. If it’s supported, it’ll send a strong message that the community is behind the school, which is what we want,” he said. “This was a creative way to attempt to solve this ourselves, in a fiscally responsible manner – to partner with an organization that’s respected and well-known for providing homes and hope.”

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