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Board recommends making school buildings permanent

Daily Inter Lake | December 22, 2021 1:00 AM

The Whitefish Planning Board last week gave a positive recommendation for the Whitefish Christian Academy to turn temporary buildings on the school’s property into permanent structures to house classrooms.

The board, however, seemed to be reluctant to the idea and only gave the recommendation after placing a condition on the conditional use permit request that the school obtain approval from the city’s Architectural Review Committee for the buildings and site plan.

The buildings located on the west side of the main school building on Ashar Avenue are used to house classrooms. The school began using the buildings in fall of 2015 with the intent that they would be temporary, but now the school is seeking a new CUP to allow for them to be turned into permanent buildings.

Planning Board member Steve Qunell questioned whether it was necessary for the building to be reviewed by the architecture committee. The buildings previously were approved by the committee as temporary structures.

“Do we care if they look like Montana chic,” he asked. “These are school buildings, do they need to go before the Architectural Review Committee.”

Board member Scott Freudenberger, who was the only planning board member to vote against the CUP request, said the buildings should be reviewed.

“We made Muldown Elementary and the high school go through the review process,” he said.

Following discussion, the board decided to add a condition to the CUP that the buildings obtain approval from the architectural committee before becoming permanent and that the committee review the site plan to consider requiring a fence or buffer on the north side to block the buildings from view.

City Council in 2014 approved the use of the two temporary buildings by the academy for up to four years as the academy planned to rebuild in a new location outside of Whitefish. The buildings were placed on the property and the school began using them in fall of 2015.

City Council in 2019 approved a second CUP for the academy to expand its school building at its existing location on Ashar Avenue and that also included an additional two years of using the temporary classroom buildings.

At this point, the CUP has expired and the school can either remove the buildings or make them permanent. The school opted to submit a new CUP to make the classroom buildings permanent as they’ve scaled back their expansion plans.

If the buildings can be brought up to city building code, planning staff notes, then the planning department would be comfortable with the request. A stormwater drainage plan is also required for the buildings to be permanent.

The request is set to go before City Council on Jan. 3 for a public hearing and a vote.