Fifty years after it opened and nearly 25 years since the last major renovation, Muldown Elementary School is overcrowded and plagued by deferred maintenance, according to school administrators and architects.
Should the school district reinvest in the current facility or build a new one?
Those are the questions at the center of this week’s public meeting, scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 1 from 7-8:30 p.m. at Muldown.
Heather Davis Schmidt, superintendent of Whitefish school district, will lead the forum, which will include a breakdown of the challenges and opportunities associated with upgrading the largest elementary school in the state. Public input will be gathered from the meeting.
The school was built in 1966, with a major renovation completed in 1992. This fall there were nearly 670 students attending the kindergarten-through-fourth grade school, which is the lone public elementary school in Whitefish.
Davis Schmidt said several issues are plaguing the 50-year old building, including a failing original heating system, structural issues with the roof, lack of insulation and vapor barriers, inadequate drainage in parking lots, a failing irrigation system, and numerous mechanical systems that are far past their life expectancy.
The facility is also filled to capacity, she said.
“We’ve increased our population at Muldown pretty significantly in the last couple of years,” she said. “We have every nook and cranny filled with students right now.”
In recent months, a group tasked with addressing the issue has hashed out several ideas with the help of school staff, architects and planners.
Three possible options have emerged.
The option that has received the most initial support is building a new kindergarten-through-fourth grade elementary school and early education center for $21.12 million. The potential site of the new school would be west of Muldown along East Seventh Street on school property. The current Muldown site would be repurposed for other uses, Davis Schmidt said, such as space for maintenance and other storage needs. It could also be used for early education classrooms in the future.
The other option that has gained traction is a $16.32 million upgrade of Muldown. This would include adding roughly 35,000 square feet to the existing space, including a new gym, multi-purpose/dining commons, library, kindergarten area and offices. This would also create a new main entrance and student entrance. It would also include remodeling the current kindergarten wing into a pre-kindergarten center and the multi-purpose area into a lab.
A third alternative being studied is finding the lowest cost possible to address the deferred maintenance at Muldown.
The group has weighed several components of future planning needs, including traffic flow problems, additional parking, increased safety and security, technology upgrades, increasing gym capacity, planning for pre-school classes and increased enrollment.
Davis Schmidt said the goal is to deliver a recommendation to the school board by March 21. A possible bond request could go before voters in October 2017.
In May, Whitefish voters rejected a pair of levy requests to address maintenance needs at the elementary and high schools. The school district was seeking $400,000 annually for seven years, or $2.8 million, for Muldown Elementary, the city’s lone elementary school, and $300,000 annually for seven years, or $2.1 million, for the high school.
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