(L-R) Wilson and Wats Littman are excited to play on the dirt that will be part of the foundation for teacher housing and a solid education. PHOTO BY JANA BOUNDS

A groundbreaking achievement

LPHS breaks ground on employee housing with approval of county commissioners and community support
We have all the tools, all the safety equipment. We have everything that people need – and we have the instructions. Even if inexperienced come on down and we can teach you how to do stuff,” Habitat for Humanity of Gallatin Valley executive director David Magistrelli said. “[It will be] a lot of work, but it will be fun, and it will be very rewarding.”

July 12 was a day of sunshine, grins and golden shovels on the grounds owned by Big Sky School District. Approval from Gallatin County Commissioners, $400,000 in funding from Resort Tax and the collaboration between BSSD and Habitat for Humanity of Gallatin County led to a groundbreaking – both in the literal and figurative sense – housing effort for teacher retention. 

It was a jovial exchange preparing for the photo-op as a representative from one organization yelled across the staked field at a colleague, “Do you want to be up here? Come on!” Another yelled happily, “We need students represented!”

Two students present and charged with wielding spray-painted shovels were BSSD board member Whitney Littman’s sons – 7th grader Wats and 4th grader Wilson. 

Both were intimately aware of the housing crisis in Big Sky. 

“I think it’s really important to help the teachers stay here so we can have the best education possible,” Wats said. 

Wilson agreed that the district cannot afford to lose teachers because of housing issues. 

“We already lost one and we don’t want it to happen again. That’s why it’s important,” he said. 

Littman said she can understand how her sons feel. 

“I mean, we all remember our teachers from when we were growing up,” she said before stating that it would be difficult to hear that they have to worry about finding housing or have to work additional jobs to afford housing.  Students can tell when teachers are stressed. 

“The students feel uncomfortable. They want their teachers to be settled, part of this community. They don’t want to worry about them leaving. That has happened – not just with one teacher,” she said. 

With television cameras rolling and cameras snapping, BSSD superintendent Dustin Shipman briefly addressed attendees: “It’s really a testament to the community’s resolve that we are able to break ground on –really– a groundbreaking project here for the school district,” he said. 

Habitat of Humanity executive director David Magistrelli continued along the same line, stating that it is truly groundbreaking in that this venture is the first time a Habitat affiliate has worked with a school district in Montana. 

“We are breaking new ground in terms of that relationship,” he said, noting that and it has been a great joint venture so far. 

“We’re so proud to be able to support the teachers, the administration, the students and really just show the devotion to education in Big Sky,” Littman addressed the crowd before the plethora of shovels pushed through the earth and dirt started flying. 

Shipman and Magistrelli had a casual conversation about the teacher housing need at a conference less than a year ago – during which the groundbreaking seed was planted. 

Teacher housing exists in lots of places in Montana where the recruitment is challenging.  Communities in eastern Montana are building teacher housing to become more desirable, Shipman explained. 

“We’re doing it to become more livable,” he said. 

Magistrelli said in later discussion that representatives from Bozeman High School have kicked around a similar venture with Habitat for Humanity. 

“I think it’s going to lay the groundwork for some of the other affiliates across the state because housing for teachers, especially in rural areas is a challenge. If this is successful – and I suspect it will be – there might be other habitats around that might be willing to do that,” he said. 

BSSD board member Matt Jennings found the positive feedback from the community refreshing. 

“Finally, a project that doesn’t have any pushback – that’s great,” he said. 

Kristin Drain, finance and compliance manager with Big Sky Resort Area District said housing is certainly one of the biggest, if not the biggest issue the community is facing. 

“I’m here representing Resort Tax. We’re really happy to be a part of it and contributing,” she said. 

Littman said the foundations for both buildings will be poured this year, but only one building – the three condominium units will be finished by Nov., the other will be constructed in the spring. 

“We will only have one finished this year, and the infrastructure for both. It was really cost effective to do both, so it was really important that we got the Resort Tax dollars, otherwise we would have had to start again next year,” she said. 

Laura Seyfang, program director of Big Sky Community Housing Trust and president of Big Sky Rotary, has been a longtime volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. She spoke to how school representatives successfully connected with the right organizations to pull the project together. She also spoke of the importance of continued community collaboration. 

Big Sky will soon hear the handiwork of hammers from Bozeman area volunteers and caravanners. Magistrelli described caravanners as retired people who have very good building skills and travel to different Habitat worksites to help. Local volunteers are also needed. 

“We have all the tools, all the safety equipment. We have everything that people need – and we have the instructions. Even if inexperienced come on down and we can teach you how to do stuff,” he said. “[It will be] a lot of work, but it will be fun, and it will be very rewarding.” 

With the construction of teacher housing being so unique, Habitat for Humanity is constructing a way to streamline volunteer sign-up online. In the meantime, those interested in volunteering should email info@habitatbozeman.org or call (406)388-8225.

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