Building A Safer School


Elevator construction in the science hall Photo by Julia Key

Current students in the MCPS District may be familiar with the experience of school remodel. In 2020 alone MCPS High Schools had a bond of 70 million dollars, but problems still arise almost everyday at Hellgate.  

Hellgate principle Judson Miller was along for the ride through the schools remodel “During our three and a half year (Hellgate) remodel there were a couple elements of safety that were included in that remodel, or camera system, the single point entry, another one was to put all of the student free space (commons, library), where kids go, where they might not be attached to a classroom, in to one central area, those are the three big changes” says Miller.

However, there is still work that needs to be done within Hellgate high school. According to Miller “We’ve got some issues with the actual front doors, they continue to be a problem in a number of ways, and the HVAC systems, how power interacts with the boilers and the heating system and the cooling system is a constant daily juggling act.” While these concerns are a big issue for Hellgate as a school, safety and protecting students is still Miller’s primary concern going forward. “Safety is always going to be a collective effort, the best safety tool that we have is knowing each other and if you see something say something” says Miller.

When students speak up on any safety concerns, staff and administration can take quicker action, and resolve the problem efficiently. This will allow students and staff to not worry about safety, but to be able to focus on other concerns in their lives.

Over winter break Hellgate had to deal with a few issues within the school. A pipe broke and flooded the school with hundreds of gallons of water, the school also struggled to regain full power after the power went out on the last day of school before break. The school struggled to keep power and many parts of the school were left without power, it was hard to figure out what went back on after the outage in such a large school. 

Last year lead was found in many Montana schools water systems, including Hellgate, which raised concern amongst many students, but according to Miller this actually isn’t very uncommon. “I want to normalize a little bit of that, it still doesn’t make it okay, as you can imagine it’s very expensive to fix, Hellgate came out okay in that process, a lot of the shutdown areas were places in the building that were never really drinking water, the science building, the welding shop, it’s inconvenient, but at least it wasn’t students drinking lead in water, but there is a plan, it’s going to be expensive and it’s gonna take some time.” 

Lead tainted water showed up in most MCPS schools last year and some priority is being taken within the school systems. “Grade schools are taking priority because it affects kids more. We have things bagged and tagged. It is mostly a lot of sinks but people don’t normally drink out of sinks but we are running through 25 to 30 of the water jugs a week. The water jugs allow for water and for cold water” says Bill Fischer, one of Hellgates maintenance staff. 

The biggest problem with finding fixes in the school is funding. “(Funding) comes from a variety of sources, we get federal dollars, state dollars, local tax dollars and then we get some grant money, and it’s a balance of all of those things.”

The school is addressing many of the school’s infrastructural problems at hand, but these types of issues take money and a whole lot of patience. Safety is at the forefront of Hellgate’s administration and while they address old issues and find new ones, students also need to find that patience and understand that issues like this