“We don’t have one,” stated Browning Schools Superintendent Corrina Guardipee-Hall. “You can go anywhere, and they have a track and field and a football field. We’re the only Class A school without a sports facility. Our football field isn’t regulation size; there’s no track we can use; there’s no soccer field.”
That situation may change in the near future, pending the outcome of partnership negotiations with the Blackfeet Tribe, as Browning Schools plans not only a new sports complex, but also renovating aging aspects of Browning Middle School.
Plans for the sports complex include a football field which can double as a soccer field, as well as a grandstand and a track and field that surrounds the football field. There is also a softball diamond that, along with the football field, will be done with Astroturf. Plans also include a practice field, tennis court and outdoor basketball and volleyball courts.
The new Arrowhead Stadium will be split into three levels, with lockers, referee rooms, mechanical and storage located in the bottom level. The second floor features the walk-in main entrance to the bleachers and an outside concession area. The top floor will be dedicated to seating handicapped folks and elders. A shelter area will be included underneath the complex to provide emergency protection in case of disasters. The estimated cost of the complex is around $7.5 million.
Browning Middle School is the site of more improvements. Guardipee-Hall notes the original cafeteria was built to hold 60 students, but it now serves 280, split into two shifts.
“Last week, I was able to see how students were served lunch,” wrote Montana Deputy State Fire Marshal Joe Le Lievre. “Several folding tables accommodating some 160 students were placed between a set of gymnasium bleachers on one side, and two required exit doors that swung into the tables on the other side. Utensils were provided with a can that protruded into the main corridor width. The line for serving students worked through a small corridor that was not intended or designed for that occupant load.
“With safety as our primary concern, this situation is marginal at best,” he continued. “I also feel that it sends a message to students that chaos is acceptable. That is definitely not what we want. Order and organization are principles that we want them to aspire to, especially when many people gather together.”
Plans call for turning the old gymnasium into classroom space for the sixth grade since space is running short at Napi Elementary. There will be a new corridor leading to a new gym that will be large enough to contain two regulation size basketball courts, as well as a set of bleachers. Upstairs, the new gym will hold a weight room and office space.
Additionally, BMS needs new boilers. Designed to last around 25 years, these are now entering their 40th year of service. Deputy Fire Marshal Le Lievre wrote, “My other items of concern are the school boilers. The two boilers are located on the second floor of the two story school, actually in a mechanical room between two classrooms. Typically these are located on the first floor or a basement with exterior access. The access door to the boilers from one classroom is at floor grade while the access from the other classroom has an 18” drop from the boiler room to the classroom floor. While I cannot require you to move them, I will strongly suggest that you do, and will support your efforts to do so.”
At first, Guardipee-Hall said the district considered selling the middle school and building a new facility altogether, but with an estimated $35 million price tag, renovation seemed a better plan. Such a high cost would have eliminated any chance of building the sports complex.
“It’s still my dream, bringing a sports complex to Browning, especially after my daughter got into track and seeing what other places had, and there’s Browning with nothing,” she said.
Meeting with the Board of Trustees and L’Heureux Page Werner Architecture, they figured out how much a remodel would cost, winding up around $11.5 million. Guardipee-Hall thanked the voters for supporting a $3.9 million bond, which will be repaid by the district through Impact Aid funds. The remainder of the total cost will come from Impact Aid reserves which are set at 15 percent per year.
If all goes well with the partnership with the Blackfeet Tribe, Guardipee-Hall said construction on both projects would be completed by the fall of 2020. If problems arise, she said the new cafetorium and boilers would have to come first at BMS. The sports complex is another consideration since holding track and field events, as well as soccer and softball on a regulation field, would attract folks who would spend money locally, which she said would benefit both the high school and the community.
“We have three goals,” she said, “community wellness, community pride and Blackfeet culture, and the sports complex accomplishes all three.”