Growth of a Seed

Whitefish High School moves forward with innovative Center for Applied Sustainability

By Tristan Scott

The seed has been planted, and a beanstalk of innovation is sprouting at the Whitefish High School, where final approval of the Center for Applied Sustainability has put the project on course for completion next spring.

The Center for Applied Sustainability (CAS) will be a state-of-the-art facility designed to enable Whitefish students to succeed in continuous learning, career, and citizenship. It will feature a greenhouse, energy systems, laboratories, orchards, gardens and an experimental forest. Designed to be a net-zero facility, the center will be powered and heated by geosolar, geothermal and solar energy systems.

Recent school board approval, granting of city permits, fundraising progress, and awarding contracts have provided momentum for the Whitefish School District’s new learning center with plans to break ground this fall.

A conditional-use permit for the three-acre project, located northwest of the high school, received unanimous approval from the Whitefish City County Planning Board and the Whitefish City Council at recent meetings.

Construction costs for the $1.7 million project will be paid for entirely through private donations, with $1.2 million designated for the facility, another $200,000 for landscaping and $300,000 for phasing in the instructional programming and maintenance.

The impetus for the idea came from Whitefish High School science teacher Eric Sawtelle and English teacher Nikki Reed, while students worked alongside community philanthropist Richard Atkinson to raise the seed money for the project.

Superintendent Heather Davis Schmidt said an anonymous fundraiser plans to raise the remaining money this summer.

“Talk about a seed! Students raised $35,000 and Richard matched it — using his patented ‘Old Man Walking’ routine to rally support around an idea that would benefit the community,” Davis Schmidt said, referring to Atkinson’s walking campaign to raise awareness and money for community projects. “This is a legacy project that was started by students, teachers, and community members. It has been a long process to get to where we now are — you can’t do something like this quickly.”

A greenhouse with energy systems, laboratories, gardens, orchards and an experimental forest engage and empower students through real-world platforms.

The greenhouse and classroom building will be built near the center of the property with the adjacent production farm and orchard running along Pine Avenue. An experimental forest and trail will track around the northeast corner of the property. A native grass wet meadow and outdoor classroom are planned along the southern edge of the area.

CAS will be an innovative educational center, providing applied learning experiences for K-12 students in energy, agriculture, forestry, natural resources, and entrepreneurship. The state of the art, net-zero facility will include a greenhouse, energy systems, laboratories, orchards, gardens and an experimental forest.

The Whitefish School Board of Trustees voted Aug. 9 to officially approve moving forward with the Center for Applied Sustainability pending written commitment of privately raised funds for the project — both for the construction of the facility and the phased-in, start-up instructional program and maintenance costs over the first 4 to 5 years.

Additionally, the board approved working with local sustainability expert Mark Van Everen of Bridgewater Innovative Builders for completion of the construction documents.

“Students will get to learn hands-on in this experiential learning center, applying what they learn through inquiry and research to solve real problems, both in the community and the world,” Davis Schmidt said.

The Center for Applied Sustainability is planned to open in 2017. For more information, visit For donations, contact the Whitefish Community Foundation at 406-862-1781.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.