West Valley School Looks to Expand

By Beacon Staff

Unlike many schools in the Flathead, West Valley School has seen continued growth over the past decade. And while having more students is not a problem, finding space for them is.

As it is now, the oldest parts of the school were built in 1963, and the K-8 students are overwhelming the space. Kids are being taught in what is essentially closet space, and sometimes in hallways.

There are 520 students right now, Superintendent Cal Ketchum said, along with 60 adults in a school built to hold 450 people.

Ketchum said the school would love to expand, but voters would need to pass a bond to finance the endeavor. That possibility is still a ways off, Ketchum said last week, but a steering committee comprised of staff and community members is still going over options for potential expansion.

The group met on March 28 to discuss its work with CTA Architects Engineers, who showed some of the preliminary plans to the public at the meeting.

The overarching idea is to build a new section on the existing facility for a middle school. Grades six through eight would be housed in the new wing, opening up space for the younger elementary students on the other side.

A middle school would be phase one of a long-term project, CTA staff said, one that would likely span several decades. During that time, the school could make small improvements and renovations in the older building, using money from the school’s budget. The final phase would include removing the oldest buildings and creating three different sections for students.

The potential first phase could also include building a kitchen, which would allow the school to prepare its own food instead of having it shipped in.

The middle school addition would add about 30,000 square feet to the school, which currently sits at about 60,000 square feet. With the school population expected to top out at about 650 in the next decade, the building would need to have approximately 100,000 square feet to adequately address the increase.

West Valley attempted a $3.5 million bond two years ago, but the effort failed. Ketchum said it was probably a tough time to ask taxpayers to support a bond, but the overcrowding persists. The expansion idea being considered would cost about $7 million.

Ketchum said the population at West Valley has increased by 5 percent annually for the past 11 years.

“(More students) is a good thing and that’s what causes the need,” Ketchum said. “We’re not trying to ask for something we don’t need.”

The next step in the process is to have another work session with CTA to go over the plans, Ketchum said. The school board might be ready to go forward with a plan in May, he added.

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