BIGFORK — Students, staff and community members cheered as the melody of the school’s pep band echoed in the heart of town. The renovation of the high school commenced with celebration.
“This is an effort stretching back 30 years to make this happen,” Superintendent Matt Jensen told the crowd. “It’s because you persevered through those efforts that we can stand here today and celebrate this.”
Last week crews with Hammerquist Casalegno officially began work on the $14 million multi-year makeover of Bigfork High School. An estimated 30,000 square feet of new space will be built onto the existing building. Other spaces will be renovated and upgraded to modern safety standards. The school was able to add an additional 6,000 square feet, which will include building a multi-use room that could host community events, because of a favorable bond rate below 4 percent, Jensen said.
“We’ve had 30 years that this has been needed. So we’re making up for lost time, but we’re also trying to build something that fits the needs for 20 years down the road,” Jensen said.
The work is kicking off seven months after voters overwhelmingly approved a bond request to upgrade the school for the first time since the late 1960s. The town’s lone high school was built in the early ‘60s, with the first graduating class occupying the site in January 1964. Four years later, two new wings were added to the school: the gymnasium and the south wing of new classrooms and the library.
Decades passed and enrollment at the school grew with the town around it. Last year Bigfork’s elementary district had 556 students, 18 more than a year ago and 64 more than in 2004. The high school had 296 students, 10 more than a year ago but 79 fewer than in 2004. Projections show the district’s enrollment could hit 1,123 students within 10 years, according to independent research presented to the school.
School administrators failed multiple times in recent years to gain voter approval of a renovation until this recent push, which included tours of the school and community outreach.
Community members, such as Brad and Leslie Stodghill, helped advocate for the bond request, answering questions and explaining the benefits of the renovation.
“It’s amazing for the kids and the school. We’ve needed this for 50 years. It’s a great opportunity for the community,” Brad Stodghill said.
Construction will continue through summer with most of the heavy work being conducted once school is out next month, Jensen said. The renovation project will progress in priority phases. The school’s priorities are adding new classroom space and updating other classrooms that are sorely outdated.
The entire renovation should take roughly 1.5 years, Jensen said.
“We believe it’s our humbling responsibility to grow your children’s skills, talents and abilities so they can fulfill their purposes in life,” Jensen said. “We’re so grateful that we can do it here in this community.”