District Pushes for New Elementary School in Whitefish

Bond ballots will be sent to voters Sept. 15, due back by Oct. 3

By Justin Franz
Muldown Elementary in Whitefish on May 3, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Whitefish residents will decide this month whether it should build a new elementary school to replace an old and overcrowded one that has outlived its usefulness, according to school officials.

The Whitefish School District is asking for a $26.5 million bond to replace Muldown Elementary School, the largest kindergarten to fourth-grade school in the state. Ballots will be sent to residents Sept. 15 and are due back Oct. 3.

On Sept. 7, the school district invited community members to a luncheon and tour of the current school. Superintendent Heather Davis-Schmidt and Principal Linda Whitright told attendees about their daily struggles utilizing the 50-year-old building that was last upgraded in 1992.

“We’re bursting at the seams,” Whitright said.

Muldown currently has more than 700 students and has had to shuffle classrooms around due to higher-than-anticipated enrollments. On average, each grade has 130 students per year, but this year the first grade jumped to more than 150, prompting the addition of another class. To deal with the influx of first graders, the teachers’ lounge has been turned into a classroom.

But the condition of the building is also proving problematic. The heating system is outdated, and one of the boilers is original to the building even though it has a life expectancy of just 25 years, according to maintenance director Chad Smith. The roof frequently leaks during rainstorms and has to be cleaned off multiple times each winter because it can no longer effectively handle the snow load.

“Parts of the roof are just beyond its serviceable life,” Smith said.

Many parts of the building also lack proper insulation, resulting in drastic temperature fluctuations.

Recently a community taskforce began to look at options to resolve the school’s problems. The committee came up with 16 different alternatives, ranging from remodeling the current school to building a new one. The school board eventually backed a plan to build a new one, believing it to be the most fiscally responsible choice in the long run. The new school would cost $26.5 million and take 30 months to complete. A 15 percent contingency plan is already built into the budget, as well as costs estimated at higher prices for future construction. The school would be 84,000 square feet, located just south of the current high school, and could house up to 756 students, which district officials believe will be enough to meet current and future population needs.

According to district officials, local homeowners will see an annual property tax increase of approximately $65 for every $100,000 of the home’s taxable value.

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