More than a year after voters approved the biggest school bond package in Kalispell history, construction timelines are coming into focus for facilities that have been targeted for renovations but haven’t yet broken ground, in addition to work already completed at other existing sites and the new Rankin Elementary School, which is under construction.
In October 2016, voters approved two bonds totaling $54 million to address maintenance needs and classroom overcrowding, providing funding for expansions or renovations at every school site in the city, plus monies to build a new elementary. The elementary district bond — $25.28 million — passed with 64 percent of the vote, while the high school district bond — $28.76 million — had 58 percent approval.
The elementary bond set aside funding for the estimated $15.7 million construction of Rankin Elementary School on Airport Road, leaving roughly $10 million for renovations and upgrades at the district’s five existing elementary sites as well as its middle school.
The high school bond secured dollars to pay for $18.19 million in deferred maintenance and new construction at Flathead High School, along with $426,900 for deferred maintenance at Glacier High School, $4.64 million for upgrades at the Agricultural Education Center, $3.44 million for renovations at Linderman Education Center, and $958,000 to rebuild the field at Legends Stadium and address maintenance needs.
Work at the new elementary broke ground last summer, while new turf installation was completed at Legends Stadium in the fall. Rankin Elementary, which will be completed in time for the fall semester, is the city’s first new elementary school since Edgerton was completed in 1987.
On Dec. 21, representatives from the construction firm Langlas & Associates led a tour of the Rankin site on Airport Road. The design features open, welcoming spaces with an emphasis on ample natural light pouring in from numerous and often large windows, along with modern security technology.
Pointing to the innovative design philosophy, driven by flexible spaces, Superintendent Mark Flatau said school officials and project leaders sought to answer the question: “What have we learned about architecture to enhance the learning experience?’”
“It’s 21st century learning,” he added.
The 46,000-square-foot school — the district’s second largest behind Edgerton — will have room for 450 kids, although it won’t be to capacity at the beginning, as will be the case at all the elementary schools after redistricting to allow room for growth. Kindergarten and first grade students will be in one wing on the first floor, second and third grade in another, and fourth and fifth on the second floor.
The school sits on the north end of a 25-acre site, with the south end reserved for a future second middle school. Located on the grounds will be a winding quarter-mile path on which children can walk, with a playground woven into the landscaping with sections tailored toward specific ages.
Renovations at the district’s five existing elementary schools will be bid out as one project. That work is in the design phase and is expected to break ground in the spring. It will include new gyms at Peterson, Russell and Elrod, a new multi-purpose room at Hedges, and new administrative offices at Edgerton.
The schools will receive a variety of other upgrades, ranging from flooring and heating to a new secure entry at each site, according to Erick Enz, the school district owner’s representative on the bond projects and president of Axiom Builders Group. The projects will also emphasize, as at Rankin, flexible 21st century learning spaces.
The bid for new construction, including a gym, and addressing deferred maintenance needs at Flathead High School will go out in February, with demolition and construction to follow. That bid will help project leaders and school officials determine a path forward for renovations at Linderman Education Center, which are focused on mechanical, electrical and plumbing upgrades but could address other needs if funds are available.
Deferred maintenance work is ongoing at Glacier High School and Kalispell Middle School, as well as at Legends Stadium, although its centerpiece upgrade — the new turf — has been in use since fall.
Lastly, the agricultural education center on F.F.A. Drive will receive a number of new additions, including an animal-care facility, commons area, welding shop, administrative area and science lab. Enz expects construction there to break ground in the fall.
In Whitefish, voters passed a $26.5 million bond in October to build a new elementary school to replace the aging Muldown Elementary School. Meanwhile, construction continues on the district’s Center for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship, a $2.65 million “net zero” experiential learning center featuring classrooms, gardens, an experimental forest and more. It broke ground last summer and is slated for completion in the spring.
Voters in the Somers-Lakeside School District approved a $15.8 million bond to rebuild part of Somers Middle School. The target date for that project’s completion is 2020.