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Helena's alternative High School adjusting to classes in former office building

Helena’s alternative High School is adjusting to the new school-year in a new, make-shift facility; a result of shuffling around students last spring when Central Elementary closed due to structural concerns.

The Project for Alternative Learning, or PAL, had been housed at a former elementary school when Central abruptly closed last March. Seismic tests determined it wasn’t earthquake safe. The Helena School District decided the most sensible place to relocate Central’s kids was P.A.L.’s elementary building.

So the 65 or so full-time P.A.L. students moved to the Front Street Learning Center, a former grocery store turned mostly into offices for educational programs. Senior Vonda Jensen said it was jarring.

“That was our home,” Jensen said, “and we got removed from our home and we didn’t really have a say in it but at least it went to something—a good cause.”

The Helena school district has worked to make the Learning Center as usable as possible, spending more than $130,000 to renovate the building over the Summer.

Science teacher Emily Petersen is trying to stay positive about the future. She’s still skeptical now, though.

“I don’t feel like we’re up in running,” she said. “We haven’t…had enough time or (have been) given the proper materials to get a classroom ready yet, so we’re sort of flying by the seat of our pants.”

The Program for Alternative learning may be at the Front Street Learning Center for three years or more—waiting for a massive, multi-million dollar renovation of Central School.

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