Whitefish voters on Tuesday rejected a $33.7 million bond that would have funded a major expansion of Whitefish High School and its adjacent athletic complex, marking the unsuccessful culmination of a more than year-long campaign by parents, educators and the Whitefish School Board to expand the campus ahead of projected growth in the school district.
The bond failed by a margin of 152 votes, with 2,161 votes in favor and 2,313 against, according to a preliminary vote count.
This is the third high school renovation bond turned down by voters in Whitefish in the past 20 years. Voters in 2003 rejected a $10.375 million bond and in 2008 rejected a $21.5 million bond. In 2012, a $14 million bond was passed to renovate the high school.
The most recent high school expansion plan — which was crafted over the course of several discussions between architects from firm Cushing Terrell, school board trustees, teachers, administrators and local stakeholders — included the construction of 24 added classrooms, shops and labs, as well as additions to the kitchen, career-technical education facilities and independent high school. The expanded athletic complex was set to include new and remodeled soccer, football and practice fields, a new track, bleachers and a multipurpose building.
Whitefish School District administrators and school board trustees in recent months said that the expansion was set to accommodate growth in Whitefish over the next 20 years, accounting for an additional 283 students. As the district’s student population has grown, high school teachers have been forced to adopt space-saving measures, such as sharing classrooms and hosting courses in the old Muldown Elementary School building. District officials also reported that students were unable to get the classes they want and were left with gaps in their schedules.
Currently, there are 663 students enrolled at Muldown Elementary School, 651 at Whitefish Middle School and 640 at Whitefish High School (including Whitefish Independent High School), marking the highest enrollment the Whitefish School District has seen since 2001.
Using a 2% growth rate projection, architects from Cushing Terrell last year estimated that the high school will enroll 644 students by 2027, 711 students by 2032 and 866 students by 2042.
“We’re seeing growth in student population. We’re also seeing growth in academics throughout our district. We’re seeing growth on the playing field and through the arts,” Whitefish School District Superintendent Dave Means said in a September video promoting the expansion. “We want to ensure that we do this right and that we have enough room to grow in the next 20 years.”
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