Gunnison will get a new $4.75 million middle school, built with funding that has had South Sanpete School District officials scrounging for money and often wondering where they could come up with it.

Ground was broken Thursday, May 27, by Interwest Construction of Salt Lake City for a new Gunnison Middle School. Only $4,000 separated the two low bidders. Interwest bid $4,756,000 and the local firm of Valley Builders bid $4,760,000. Bids were submitted by 16 companies.The new middle school will be constructed east of Gunnison Valley High School and will be completed by July 1999, said Superintendent Lewis Mullins.

School District officials went on a quest for money for a building program two years ago. Mullins said a bond issue was passed for $10 million but the district could only bond for $3.5 million. A low interest loan of $7.1 million was obtained and the building program became a reality.

"We didn't know how we could do it and then everything fell in place," Mullins said. "It was kind of like a miracle. We're excited."

He said school officials went to the governor and the Legislature seeking financing, adding the district is now at its maximum bonding level.

The superintendent said the money will provide for an increase in the quality and quantity of educational services, noting the district's current enrollment is about 3,000 students.

Two other building projects are under way and a third is planned. Four classrooms and a new office will be completed by fall at the Ephraim Elementary School. At Manti High School, 10 classrooms, a gym and a commons area are being built and an office complex is being remodeled. These facilities will be ready for occupancy by December.

Valley Builders was successful in getting the contracts for the schools in Ephraim and Manti. The project at Ephraim Elementary will cost about $1 million and Manti High School $3.7 million, Mullins said. A new gymnasium will be built at Gunnison Valley High School at an estimated cost of $2.7 million, but district officials haven't called for bids.

The new Gunnison Middle School will include 57,000 square feet of space. It will be comprised of 10 regular classrooms, a technology complex and computer lab, a learning center, shop, music room, business and home economics areas and self-contained and regular resource areas.

"We anticipate there will be 300 students when the school opens," Mullins said. "We now have 192 and we project that there will be 40 more because of a new prison addition."

That addition at the Central Utah Correction Facility in Gunnison has just been completed, and 260 inmates will arrive in June.

The new middle school is expected to accommodate the number of students projected to attend for the next four or five years. The school is being constructed with the idea of building on if and when that need arises, Mullins said.