Whitefish voters approved a bond request to build a new $26.5 million elementary school.
Preliminary results released Tuesday night showed 2,399 votes in favor, or 61.4 percent, and 1,508 opposed, according to school officials. The mail-in ballot election was Oct. 3 and the school board will canvass the results at its upcoming meeting to finalize the vote. The margin of victory is significant enough that provisional ballots will not effect the outcome, school officials said.
“Thanks to the community for their support and investment in public education for the students, families and community of Whitefish,” Heather Davis Schmidt, school superintendent, said.
The Whitefish School District Board of Trustees asked voters for a $26.5 million general obligation bond to construct a new elementary facility and demolish part of the existing site.
The new elementary school will replace the existing Muldown Elementary, a school built in 1966. Today it is Montana’s largest elementary school and is filled with nearly 670 students in kindergarten through fourth grade.
To cover the 20-year bond worth roughly $26.5 million, property taxes will increase roughly $131 annually on a home with a taxable value of $240,000, the median value in Whitefish, according to the school district. For a home with a taxable value of $200,000, property taxes will increase roughly $110 annually.
A committee of staff, planners and residents reviewed options for the aging facility over the last year and landed on the recommendation: build a new facility next door to Muldown while renovating part of the existing school, which would be closed but available for possible future use.
The current facility is plagued by wear and tear. The 86,000-square-foot facility’s heating and ventilation system runs on two boilers, both of which are outdated but one that is 60 years old and remains operational through piecemeal maintenance. The roof is structurally failing and leaking, leading staff to set up garbage cans throughout the building that routinely catch water. Winter snowfall forces the school to pay $3,000 each time to have the 50,000-square-foot roof shoveled to prevent caving. Electrical issues, overcrowding and safety concerns, parking and drop-off congestion — the list of problems continues to pile up at the largest elementary school in Montana.