Kalispell School Board to Vote on New Schools, Bond Election

Board of trustees will meet Tuesday night to decide future school options

By Dillon Tabish

The Kalispell school board will decide Tuesday night whether to seek voter approval to build at least one new elementary school to address overcrowding while also tackling maintenance needs at the city’s remaining schools.

The Kalispell Public Schools Board of Trustees will meet June 14 at 6 p.m. inside the middle school library to review a year’s worth of planning by a committee of staff and community members.

The board will consider whether to ask voters to approve two bonds in the fall. One bond would be used to build at least one new elementary school while upgrading the remaining five kindergarten-through-fifth grade sites. Another bond in the high school district would be used to address deferred maintenance and other needs at Flathead, Glacier, Linderman Education Center and the Ag-Center.

The options have ebbed and flowed throughout a year-long process with two professional planning firms, but a decision will be made Tuesday night with a date also selected to ask voters for approval.

The planning committee will recommend the school board seek a $25.2 million bond for a new elementary school along Airport Road as well as upgrades at the district’s existing elementary schools. The seven elementary trustees will vote on this decision.

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.

The entire 11-member board will vote on the high school bond request.

Superintendent Mark Flatau said the school board could likely debate whether the improvements at Legends Stadium should be included along with funds to address parking issues near Flathead High School. If approved, the school district would not seek eminent domain for properties near the school to add parking but instead would wait until a property was listed for sale and fit into the district’s parking strategy, Flatau said.

The planning committee will not recommend building a new middle school next to the new elementary school on the south end of town as was previously planned. That decision came after the Somers-Lakeside school board recently voted to reject an agreement with Kalispell to send middle-school students to the new site on Airport Road.

Without the Somers-Lakeside students, Flatau said the current enrollment projections estimate the Kalispell Middle School, the lone middle school in town and the largest in Montana with nearly 1,100 students, would not reach full capacity until 2028.

The school board will also have to decide whether the district should seek funds for a new elementary school on the north end of town. During the planning process, a landowner approached the district with a potential 25-acre property off Whitefish Stage Road that could be bought for a future school site.

Flatau said the new elementary site on the north end would be built after the south school and could cost an estimated $15.7 million.

The steering committee has met for the past year to address overcrowding throughout the elementary district, which is already over-capacity at all five schools, including Edgerton, which has over 100 students more than the ideal amount, according to district officials and planners. The city’s swelling elementary population hit a record 3,018 students this fall.

The last elementary school to be built in Kalispell was Edgerton in 1987. In recent years, the district has added classrooms onto existing sites, but those facilities are already filled while others are plagued by deferred maintenance, administrators say.

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. A new elementary school on the north end of Kalispell would tentatively be built starting in spring of 2020.

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