Kalispell School District Considering New 25-Acre Property on North End

Parcel off Whitefish Stage Road could be latest site for new elementary school

By Dillon Tabish
An empty section of land near Whitefish Stage Road on the north end of Kalispell. Beacon File Photo

Kalispell school officials are considering the addition of an elementary school on the north side of town along with two new sites on the southern end to address overcrowding and projected growth over the next 20 years.

Mark Flatau, Kalispell School District 5 superintendent, told a steering committee on Wednesday that an informal dialogue is underway with a landowner who expressed interest in selling 25 acres for a new school off Whitefish Stage Road. The landowner approached the district with the idea, Flatau said. The empty parcel is within city limits near Rose Crossing.

Flatau said a full report on the potential site will be delivered to the school board on Feb. 23.

The potential additional property comes as school administrators and staff are in the midst of long-range planning efforts to address Kalispell’s crowded elementary classrooms. Kalispell’s elementary school district hit its largest enrollment on record this fall with 3,018 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, 521 more than 10 years ago.

Since last summer, planners have worked with a local steering group to solve the growing need for new space.

Flatau said the latest possibility is acquiring the land off Whitefish Stage Road and building an elementary school. At the same time, the district would also build an elementary school and middle school on the district’s 25-acre property along Airport Road on the south end of town.

“That’s where the discussions are at right now,” he said, emphasizing that the plans were very preliminary.

Voters would have to approve a bond measure giving the district funding to build any new schools. Previous estimates showed costs between $24 million to $50 million for new facilities and maintenance.

The original plan was solely focused on developing school facilities on the south property with several ideas floated by planners, including an early education center for pre-school and kindergarten students.

Yet a problem emerged as plans were further reviewed, Flatau said. Building a new elementary school and early education center in south Kalispell would only clear up enough space in the city’s elementary classes for 15 years before classrooms were filled again. This forecast is based on a projected growth of 2 percent annually, which is consistent with recent population trends.

“It would be very short-sighted to go out for a bond and six or seven years later, ask for another bond,” Flatau said. “I think our community expects us to do better planning than that.”

Flatau said the district should consider utilizing the north property based on both need and opportunity.

“If I could’ve picked a site on the north end for a new school, that’s exactly where I would pick. It’s ideal,” he said.

Both north and south ends of Kalispell have experienced significant residential growth in recent years with more expected in the near future.

The area along Whitefish Stage Road is already platted for a large residential development.

Four of Kalispell’s five elementary schools are at least 60 years old, and almost every site is filled to capacity as enrollment keeps growing. Kalispell Middle School, with nearly 1,100 students, is the lone middle school in town and the largest in Montana. The city’s newest elementary school, Edgerton, was built in 1987 and had over 600 students this year.

Flatau said the idea of creating an early education center had merit but that it would create less flexibility in terms of addressing the student population’s greatest needs.

“For that reason, we need to stay with the K-5 model,” he said.

The next steering committee meeting is March 2 at the middle school, starting at 6p.m.