Facing Persistent Overcrowding, Kalispell Asking Voters for New School, Facility Upgrades

School district seeking approval for $54.76 million in bonds to build new elementary site and address deferred maintenance

By Dillon Tabish
Principal Pete Fusaro shows outdated areas of Flathead High School on Aug. 18, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Three weeks before the new school year began, Kalispell’s kindergarten classrooms were already filled to capacity with prospective students at each of the five elementary schools, while the entire district was collectively 223 kids over capacity.

“We have no classroom space,” Mark Flatau, superintendent of Kalispell Public Schools, said. “We have no classroom setting that is unused in any of our elementary buildings.”

Flatau has spent the last few months — and will spend the ensuing weeks — meeting with business leaders, community members and local organizations to explain the situation facing the city’s schools.

Since Kalispell last built an elementary school — Edgerton — in 1987, the city’s population has doubled. Naturally, as the local population grows at one of the fastest rates in Montana, the student population is also spiking. Last year, there were 3,018 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, 521 more than 10 years ago.

At the high school level, Flathead is plagued with deferred maintenance and other issues connected to its 106-year-old history as the county’s original high school.

Faced with overcrowding and aging facilities, the Kalispell school district is conducting two separate bond requests on Oct. 4 for a total of roughly $54.76 million. The elections will be conducted through mail-in ballots in the elementary and high school districts. Ballots will go out Sept. 19.

Voters in the Kalispell elementary district, which spans city limits and the surrounding area, will decide whether to approve a roughly $26 million bond to build a new kindergarten-through-fifth-grade school on the south end of town and remodel the existing elementary sites and middle school.

For the 20-year bond, property taxes would increase an estimated $99 annually on a home in the district valued at $170,000, according to school officials.

Residents in the elementary district will also vote on a separate bond request with residents in the larger high school district, which includes Kalispell and 13 partner districts in the outlying valley. The request is for a $28.76 million bond that would go toward remodeling sections of Flathead High School that are over 100 years old as well as deferred maintenance, along with an expansion of the Agricultural Education Center and upgrades at Linderman Education Center. The bond would also fund maintenance needs at Glacier High School, rebuild the main field at Legends Stadium and expand parking opportunities near Flathead.

For the high school bond, property taxes would increase roughly $48 annually for a home valued at $170,000, according to school officials.

If both bonds were approved, property taxes would increase roughly $147 annually for a $170,000 home in both the elementary and high school district.


KALISPELL BOND REQUESTS

ELEMENTARY DISTRICT (Encompassing Kalispell city limits)

Total: $26 million

Breakdown:

$15.18 million

-build new south elementary school along Airport Road with space for 450 students, which will relieve pressure on each of the other five elementary sites

$9.68 million

-upgrades and addressing deferred maintenance for each of the existing elementary sites, with new classrooms and learning spaces added

$411,000

-address deferred maintenance at Kalispell Middle School

HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT (Encompassing Kalispell city limits and surrounding school districts)

Total: $28.76 million

Breakdown

$19.28 million

-address deferred maintenance and conduct upgrades at Flathead High School, including replacing the old and obsolete half floors that end at the original gym, and build new classroom space that connects to the main floor, along with the first and second floors; address aging plumbing and other infrastructure issues in areas of the school that were built in 1910 and in the 1920s; update the sprinkler system and conduct asbestos abatement throughout the school

$4.65 million

-Agriculture Education Center – add six classrooms and a science lab to the existing space; also expand the shop areas to house welding programs and renovate the animal care facility; build two new commons areas to allow for learning sessions; address deferred maintenance

$3.44 million

-Linderman Education Center – renovate the entire building, which was constructed in 1939, and create new learning space and a new library/information commons; bring the building up to safety codes and address deferred maintenance, such as roof repair

$426,900

-Glacier High School – complete the athletic fields on campus and address parking lot maintenance and other deferred maintenance

$958,000

-Legends Stadium – expand bleachers and improve the football field


Kalispell’s Aging and Crowded Elementary Schools

Hedges Elementary

Built: 1929

Over Capacity: 38 students

Russell Elementary

Built: 1939

Over Capacity: 40 students

Peterson Elementary

Built: 1955

Over Capacity: 15 students

Elrod Elementary

Build: 1959

Over Capacity: 20 students

Edgerton Elementary

Built: 1987

Over Capacity: 110 students

Source: Kalispell Public Schools

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