Kalispell Planning Group Supports School Bond Elections in Fall

Steering committee to recommend elementary, high school bond votes in same election

By Dillon Tabish

Voters in Kalispell and the surrounding area could decide on two bond requests this fall for three new elementary sites and upgrades to both high schools and the agriculture education center.

A planning committee that has focused on facility needs for the past 11 months is recommending the Kalispell Public Schools board of trustees float both bond requests in the same election this fall.

The group is recommending a $62.39 million bond for the elementary district to build two new elementary schools and a middle school while also addressing deferred maintenance and other needs in the six existing sites. Under these expansions and renovations, the district would not reach maximum capacity until 2035, according to estimates by L’Heureux Page Werner, a firm helping the district study long-term facility needs.

For a 20-year bond, property taxes in the elementary district, which encompasses Kalispell city limits, would increase an estimated $236 annually, or roughly $20 a month, for a home valued at $170,000, according to school officials.

The group is also recommending a $26.71 million bond for the high school district, which includes Kalispell and 13 surrounding districts. The bond would cover a variety of tentative options: $18.19 million in upgrades and additions at Flathead High School; $4.64 million for renovations and upgrades at the Agriculture Education Center; $3.44 million for renovations at Linderman Education Center; $1 million to buy lots around FHS to add parking; $707,500 to rebuild the field at Legends Stadium; and $426,900 for deferred maintenance at Glacier High School.

For a 20-year bond, property taxes for a home valued at $170,000 would increase by an estimated $44 annually, or roughly $3.72 a month.

All together, the bond requests would be the largest in Kalispell history and similar to other communities, such as Missoula, where population growth is driving school expansions. Missoula voters last winter approved two school bonds totaling $158 million.

The Kalispell group will present its final recommendations to the school board in June, and the trustees will make the final decision about whether to float the requests. The group will also lead a public tour on June 1 at Flathead High School explaining the various needs.

“To me it makes sense to show these are the needs. We’re giving the voters the full picture,” Flathead Principal Peter Fusaro said, expressing support for both bond votes in the same election. “I feel like if you go with the elementary bond first, then the high schools keep getting put on the backburner.”

School planners and administrators say the elementary district is in desperate need of new facilities to address a swelling student population that hit a record 3,018 kids this fall. Kalispell Middle School, with nearly 1,100 students, is the lone middle school in town and the largest in Montana.

If the bond were approved, the district would first build the elementary school on Airport Road starting in April 2017 with a tentative completion date of August 2018. The adjacent middle school on Airport Road would be built starting in August 2017 with a planned completion of February 2019. A new elementary school on the north end of Kalispell would tentatively be built starting in spring of 2020; the district remains in negotiations for property, according to officials.

The community in the Somers-Lakeside district is still deciding whether it would send an estimated 160-180 middle school students to the new site in south Kalispell if it were built. The district would provide roughly $1 million in state funding to Kalispell for those students.

Administrators plan to hold a community meeting in Somers in the coming weeks to decide on the matter.

Members of the planning group decided to hold both bond elections on the same date despite some lingering concerns that one could negatively affect the other.

Historically, voters have been more hesitant to fund new levies and bonds in the high school district, which is much larger than the elementary district and includes the outlying communities around Kalispell.

Some members of the steering group said the upgrades to the Ag-Center could influence the outlying rural communities. The bond would fund new space for welding and science labs, as well as additions to the veterinarian sciences program. The additions could allow the agriculture center to accommodate roughly 75 more students, from 175 to 250, according to administrators.

“I personally think the improvements to this facility would have a lot of appeal to our partner districts,” Kalispell Superintendent Mark Flatau said.

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