Columbia Falls School Bond Projects Moving Forward

Crews moving dirt at site of new multi-use fields; work at Ruder elementary set to begin

By Myers Reece
Construction equipment breaks ground between Ruder Elementary and Columbia Falls Junior High for a school district improvement project on June 4, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Crews have broken ground on new multi-use sports fields in Columbia Falls, while construction activity is set to begin at Ruder Elementary School.

Those projects stem from the passage last October of a $37 million school bond, which will fund the construction of a new 75,000-square-foot Glacier Gateway Elementary and security updates at the junior high school entryway, in addition to the athletic fields and work at Ruder.

The Ruder project involves remodels at the existing school, built in 1975, and a new 25,000-square-foot addition. Swank Enterprises was selected to oversee that project through a General Contractor/Construction Manager (GCCM) agreement with the district. The design team includes Morrison Maierle, DCI Engineers and LPW Architecture.

The Columbia Falls School District 6 board of trustees was set on June 8 to vote on Swank’s $3.7 million guaranteed price amendment for the first phase of Ruder, which involves what Dow Powell, the district’s owner’s representative on the bond projects, describes as “the whole envelope” of the addition: the shell, including structural steel, walls, the roof and windows; civil work; underground plumbing; and utilities.

Following the board vote, Powell said underground work, such as water lines, could begin at the Ruder site as early as this week.

The new sports fields are located between Ruder and the junior high school. The district awarded a $960,979 contract to build the fields to Finmark Construction, and initial work at the new field site is underway.

District officials have noted that the community lacks enough multi-use fields. Columbia Falls School Superintendent Steve Bradshaw said local soccer advocates highlighted the need for new fields, while there’s also interest from other sports such as lacrosse. He noted that the juxtaposition of different sports practicing side by side at previous sites has resulted in less than ideal conditions.

“Practices aren’t terribly dangerous but it’s not comfortable to have soccer practice and football practice going on in the same area and always trying to avoid collisions,” he said.

Ruder Elementary School in Columbia Falls on June 4, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Glacier Gateway Elementary project is still in the design stages, led by the same design team as Ruder. A new facility will be constructed west of the existing school, which was built in 1940, while a portion of the current facility will be demolished and other parts will be remodeled.

Glacier Gateway has long had significant maintenance needs that district officials say have grown too costly to fix piecemeal. The old school’s layout is also restrictive for modern education models that emphasize collaboration.

Ruder and Glacier Gateway each currently has roughly 500 students, and a steering committee process identified enrollment increasing to about 650 students per school over the course of the bond’s 20-year lifespan. After construction, each school will be able to accommodate that number of students.

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