As School Year Begins, Administrators Focus on Facility Needs

Bigfork voters to decide bond request for high school upgrades; Kalispell to review options for new school

By Dillon Tabish
Beacon File Photo

Nearly 16,000 students are settling into classrooms across Flathead County this week as the new school year commences.

In Kalispell, schools are once again bustling with young students as administrators and staff continue a community dialogue about facility needs.

According to preliminary enrollment figures, Kalispell welcomed 2,104 students to kindergarten through fifth grade, 118 more than a year ago. Students were still being enrolled in the days leading up to the start of school, especially in the younger grades.

“That is where we have the most constraint. We just don’t have any room. We’re bursting,” Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Mark Flatau said.

Kalispell Middle School, the largest in the state, had 1,040 students entering the first day of school, 30 more than a year ago, Flatau said. The high school district, encompassing Glacier, Flathead and Linderman Education Center, had 2,836 students, 36 students more than a year ago.

To further address the district’s facility needs and the possible development of a new school site, Kalispell administrators are hosting a second community meeting Sept. 2 at 6 p.m. inside the cafeteria at Edgerton Elementary. At a previous meeting in June, community members and staff discussed several building options, including a new elementary school on the district’s property on Airport Road.

Flatau said this latest meeting would include a timetable for when that could happen.

“We’re forced into a fast track for that new facility. We just don’t have any room anywhere,” he said. “We’ve got to get that built.”

Bigfork is involved in a similar conversation that is further along than Kalispell.

The school board has approved a bond request for $14 million to redevelop the high school with eight new classrooms and update other outdated space. An estimated 24,000 square feet of new space would be built onto the existing building to address rising enrollment.

Voters in Bigfork High School District #38, which encompasses the unincorporated county communities between Creston and Condon, will settle the referendum through mail-in ballots.

Ballots will be sent Sept. 18 and are due back by Oct. 9. An open house is scheduled for Sept. 10 at 5:30 p.m. at the high school gym for residents to gain information or ask questions of administrators.

If voters approve the bond, property taxes for a home valued at $200,000 would increase by roughly $70 annually, according to school district estimates.

Superintendent Matt Jensen said the district has led several community tours of the facility, showing the needs that should be addressed.

“We’re trying to spread awareness and explain that the heart of the plan is adding eight new classrooms and those will have an emphasis on math and science rooms and labs,” he said.

Jensen said he is confident that the community understands the district’s needs.

An independent site assessment last year found structural issues and growing issues throughout the campus, including more classroom space.

“I feel better every time I talk to somebody who wants to take a tour. The building speaks for itself,” he said.

The last major upgrade of the high school was in the 1960s.

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