Flathead High School Principal Michele Paine was surveying an assortment of old, at times decrepit, tables and shelves destined to be tossed or recycled last week as she prepared for the start of the school year. With the school gearing up to unveil its multi-million-dollar remodel later this month, Paine had decisions to make.
“Education is famous for holding on to everything because you don’t know when you’ll get something new,” Paine said, adding that the school held an “ugly chair contest” featuring garish pieces from the 1960s and 1970s.
Indeed, it’s time to get rid of some of the dated furniture and décor to make room for the new. The remodel is funded through a $54 million bond package — $28.76 million for the high school district and $25.28 million for the elementary — approved by voters in 2016, and includes the removal of 27,500 square feet of aging infrastructure, construction of nearly 50,000 square feet of new space and completion of a laundry list of deferred maintenance and updates.
The district is hosting the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Aug. 20 at 11:30 a.m., followed by a grand-opening dedication on Aug. 27 at 5 p.m., to show off the new construction, which was headed up by general contractor Swank Enterprises. Morrison-Maierle and LPW oversaw design and planning.
Administrators like Paine and Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Mark Flatau are giddy to welcome students to the revamped school for the fall semester. The first day for freshmen is Aug. 28, followed by the three other grades on Aug. 29.
“We’re excited,” Paine said. “This will serve the community for so many years to come. We’re set for decades. We’re very blessed to be able to do this.”
According to Paine’s research, the first building on campus was constructed in 1903. Since then, the school has expanded through a patchwork of additions, including major ones in the 1930s and 1960s. The result was a layout that didn’t always make sense, such as the “half floors” that were removed as part of the bond project.
The bond allowed district officials to finally transform the school into a cohesive, 21st century learning space. Still, challenges of meshing remained, with the architect and contractor needing to blend the remaining portions of older space with the new construction. A recent tour of the school revealed the success of those efforts, as the various wings of the school transitioned seamlessly into each other.
“Tying those areas together was the most challenging part of the design,” Flatau said.
Among the areas left intact is the auditorium from the 1930s, which a respected pianist told Paine is home to outstanding acoustics. The auditorium, which is undergoing touchups and updates, created design challenges by needing to be worked around.
Where the lecture hall stood is now an expansive “flexible” room, which can hold more than 100 people for meetings and other purposes, or be divided into two or four separate rooms.
In addition to new classrooms, hallways and other spaces, the outdated “old gym” has been replaced, giving the school two gyms to host every level of athletics. In years past, for example, freshmen basketball teams played games at Rankin Elementary or Kalispell Middle School and practiced at 6 a.m. Now, the school can hold all of its teams’ games in its own building.
Gazing at the shiny new gym floor, Flatau couldn’t wait to see students using it.
“It’s phenomenal,” he said.
Elsewhere in the district, work is wrapping up at a number of schools. The bond package funded myriad renovations and new secure entryways at all five elementary schools in Kalispell, plus the construction of a new sixth elementary, Rankin, which is entering its second year of operation. It also funded major work at the Linderman Education Center and Agricultural Education Center, both part of the high school district.
According to a mid-July construction update, crews were painting remodeled rooms and additions at Hedges Elementary and installing flooring and ceilings, with substantial completion expected this month. Work at Edgerton, Peterson and Russell is essentially complete, with the exception of a few small remaining items.
At Elrod, work on both the major sewer line replacement and inside sewer line was “well underway” as of the July 16 construction update, with landscaping expected to start a week or two after the update was issued.
Peterson, Elrod and Russell also received new gyms, while other schools had their gyms refurbished.
The first of two phases at the agricultural center hit a speed bump when the contractor, Outback Construction, quit paying subcontractors and answering phone calls from the district, effectively disappearing this spring. But the major work was already complete and structurally sound, leaving the district responsible for fixing up areas of subpar finish work and completing a number of punch-list items.
The district is working with a surety company to access bonding dollars — akin to insurance funds — to pay for the remaining work, and was finalizing its decision on a contractor as of last week. Swank is leading the second phase of the ag center.
Flatau said Linderman and the ag center are both currently “full-bore construction sites,” with both projects expected to be “substantially completed by the end of 2019.”