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Saturday, January 20, 2018

Commissioners meeting - Residents packed the Dawson County Commissioner’s meeting Tuesday morning. Members of the audience were there to  express opinions about the wastewater facility and the proposed teacherage.

**Neighborhood nixes plans for teacherage in Prospect Heights location**

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

Glendive Public Schools officials are still hopeful they can get plans for a teacherage in place before the grant money for the project sunsets at the end of July, but it is now clear the facility will not be built in the Prospect Heights neighborhood.

Following a meeting with the county commissioners Tuesday morning in which Prospect Heights residents heaped a chorus of opposition on the proposal and commissioners once again punted on making a decision, Superintendent Ross Farber said the school district was giving up on its pursuit of the Newport Square property.

“We’re out of time for this,” Farber said. “We’ll have to let it go.”

The school district had been trying to get the county to donate, lease or sell the vacant, triangular plot of land to them for the past three months, but commissioners repeatedly deferred a decision on the matter to the county attorney’s office, and continued to do so even after a clear legal opinion authorizing the donation, sale or lease of the property to the school district was rendered late last month.

In the meantime, neighboring property owners had rallied concerted opposition to the proposal, which showed in force at Tuesday morning’s meeting.

Maggie Copeland, a neighborhood resident who is also the MEA-MFT representative for Glendive’s teachers union, led the way in denouncing the idea of building a teacher housing facility at Newport Square.

“I agree there is a need for affordable housing in Dawson County, but this is not the spot for it,” Copeland said. “There’s no reason for it other than it’s a piece of free or cheap property.”

Copeland further added that neighborhood residents had “absolutely no idea” what the school district’s plans for the proposed teacherage were and that she was concerned that given the district only has $150,000 in grant funding for the project, the neighborhood would “get a project that’s halfway developed.”

Copeland also added concerns about the lack of open space in the area, problems with parking and already increased traffic. Her remarks earned her a round of applause from other neighborhood residents.

A number of other Prospect Heights property owners spoke up afterwards, all largely repeating the same points Copeland had made and questioning why the school district was not pursuing other options.

The district has been offered land near Deer Creek School, but Farber and board members have expressed concerns over the costs of adding sewer, water and an access road to the site.

Farber and Dawson Community College President Michael Simon have also discussed the possibility of working collaboratively on the project on college-owned land.

Attendees at Tuesday’s meeting also asked why the district did not simply build on the land it owns behind Jefferson Elementary, but Farber again noted that option wasn’t ideal, as the issue of building water infrastructure applied there as well. 

Jefferson uses well water and Farber said the existing well would be insufficient to supply the teacherage.

Copeland also raised the prospect of using the grant funding from the Office of Public Instruction to expand classroom space at Jefferson, a point teachers union representatives had made in a recent interview with the Ranger-Review.

When the school district submitted the grant application, they did include that possibility as a “Plan B” option.

However, Farber has maintained that using the funding for anything other than a teacher housing project would require special approval from OPI.

Just minutes after Tuesday’s meeting, Farber received an e-mail from OPI School Finance Division Administrator Janelle Mickelson informing him that OPI would not approve the use of the funding for any purpose other than teacher housing.

Farber said the school district must now focus on exploring its other options to get a teacherage built and must act fast. The district must have a solution for land for the teacherage by the end of June and all the funds committed towards construction by July 31, otherwise the district will lose the funding.

Glendive Unified School Board member Jeanne Seifert, who laid out the district’s plan for a duplex at the Newport Square site during the meeting, said she was disappointed in the reactions Prospect Heights residents expressed during the discussion.

“The unfortunate thing I think to me is there was a lot of misinformation and it got the whole neighborhood riled up,” Seifert said.

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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