Whitefish Schools to Host High School Expansion Information Sessions

The Whitefish School District this fall will once again ask voters to approve an expansion to Whitefish High School and its adjacent athletic complex as the school system contends with marked growth in its student population. The district will host four information sessions for community members this summer. 

By Denali Sagner
Whitefish High School on March 15, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Whitefish School District is in the process of hosting information sessions for community members ahead of a September vote on a proposal to expand the city’s high school and adjacent athletic complex.

Information sessions will take place on July 15, Aug. 5, Aug. 19 and Sept. 5 at 5:30 p.m. at Whitefish High School.

The district has proposed a $26.5 million expansion of Whitefish High School and a concurring $6.1 million expansion of its adjacent athletic complex. The September vote will mark the second attempt in two years by the district to expand its high school after voters last fall rejected a $33.7 million expansion bond by a slim margin of 152 votes out of 4,474.

During the upcoming information sessions, attendees will hear a brief presentation and then will be able to pose questions and concerns to school officials.

“We really want people to be able to express what they’re seeing, what they’re feeling, what they’re hearing,” Whitefish High School Principal Kerry Drown said.

The upcoming bond election will diverge from last fall’s proposal as it will split the academic and athletic complex into two separate votes, a decision that district officials say emerged from community feedback. School trustees during the last bond cycle expressed concerns that voters may feel favorable toward the academic expansion while seeing the athletic expansion as unnecessary.

“We heard from our community and a lot of the feedback we had received was that that was the preferred route,” Drown said about splitting the bond into two separate votes. 

A rendering of the proposed Whitefish High School expansion. If passed by voters in September, the $26.5 million expansion bond will allow the Whitefish School District to construct additional classrooms and lab spaces, career technical education facilities and multi-purpose spaces. Rendering courtesy of the Whitefish School District.

The high school building expansion would include the construction of additional classrooms, labs and shops; expansions of career technical education facilities; and renovations to the kitchen and Whitefish Independent High School. Expanding and renovating the high school building would limit student travel to auxiliary buildings and add space for popular programs such as culinary arts, building trades and biotechnology. 

Drown noted that the high school is currently housing multiple classes in the Annex, a remote section of the old Muldown Elementary School building, which was designed to be a temporary learning site to meet student overflow at the high school. 

With the athletic complex expansion, the district would add a new ten-lane track and field; football field; grandstands; additional parking; and ticketing, concession and restroom facilities. The school district currently does not own the athletic facilities where its teams play. Two lanes on the district’s 10-lane track are currently unusable and pits for long jump and other field events are in need of repair. Increased use has also put pressure on the high school’s athletic facilities. Participation in athletics at Whitefish High School has grown from 402 students in 2011-12 to 507 this year.

“We don’t have the opportunity to invest money into that facility being that it’s on somebody else’s property,” Drown said. “This project would now enable us to have those events on our own property.”

A rendering of the proposed Whitefish High School athletic complex expansion. Rendering courtesy of the Whitefish School District.

District officials say an expansion is necessary to meet Whitefish’s rapidly growing student population. Whitefish High School has experienced 28% student growth over the past decade, with its enrollment ticking up from 497 students in 2014 to 637 in 2023. Enrollment at the elementary and middle school level has also grown by over 20% since 2014. Whitefish High School is now beyond its building capacity of 600 students, and even larger classes are on the horizon. 

Following a 2% annual growth rate, Whitefish High School is projected to enroll 655 students in 5 years and 723 students in 10 years. 

Enrollment upticks in the Whitefish school district track with larger population growth in the resort town, which experienced a boom of new residents during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Whitefish saw a 13% population increase between 2020 and 2023. 

The academic expansion is slated to cost $44.02 per year for a property owner with an assessed value of $300,000. The athletic bond is set to cost the same property owner $13.16 per year. 

Ballots will be mailed out on Aug. 28 and must be returned by Sept. 17 by 8 p.m. Ballots can be mailed or returned in person to the Whitefish School District Office at 600 East Second St., Whitefish. More information can be found here.

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