Wednesday, June 23, 2021
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Music school tunes up for future with proposal for new building

by HEIDI DESCH
Whitefish Pilot | June 9, 2021 1:00 AM

North Valley Music School has been busting at the seams of the remodeled home on Spokane Avenue where it holds music lessons, classes and small recitals.

For roughly 25 years, the nonprofit school has served thousands of students but for some time now it’s needed more space to accommodate its growing programs. The school recently got initial approval from the City of Whitefish to lease land at Smith Fields to construct a future music school facility.

Deidre Corson, executive director of the music school, said the school has been working on plans for a new building for the last 15 years because of the growth it has seen.

“We’re so excited and grateful to the city,” Corson said. “Our current location has been good, but as the town has gotten busier and the school has gotten busier it’s really become time to move to a new location.”

The music school sees about 500 students per year. On average there are about 275 students of all ages coming to the school each week for private lessons and another 50 per week who are part of group lessons or ensembles.

To meet its demand the school rents additional space from the First Presbyterian Church, and parking spots near the school are a challenge.

“It’s really become a safety issue especially as Spokane Avenue has gotten busier,” Corson said. “We like being downtown, but we just don’t have a lot of options for parking or enough for all those students.”

City Council recently voted in favor of the request from the school for use of land at the north end of the park, though a formal long-term lease agreement will still have to be negotiated and approved.

Mayor John Muhlfeld said he looks forward to supporting the long-awaited project and hearing public input as it moves along.

“We’ve been trying for 15 long years to find a home for North Valley Music School,” he said. “Let’s move this over the finish line.”

Corson said the music school continues to provide musical opportunities for students of all ages and walks of life.

“We’ve offered half a million private lessons over the years, we’ve had concerts and recitals all around the Flathead Valley,” she said. “We make sure that anyone who wants a music education can have one at NVMS — this year we’ve offered $20,000 in music scholarships. We’ve enriched our community through music programs for all ages.”

The school is planning a capital campaign to fundraise for construction of a new facility. Plans are for the building to include 12 private soundproof studios, a group classroom, a multi-purpose room for recitals and events, state of the art audio and visual equipment and technology for virtual music education. In addition, the project is expected to include an outdoor music park and community amphitheater.

“We would like to provide a safe, inclusive and accessible music home for future generations of music students of all ages and abilities,” she said. “The outdoor music park and performance area would be a benefit to the community, and the multi-purpose room would be able to be used by the public.”

The location at Smith Fields would also provide easy access for students who are also at the park for sports activities, she noted, and those that are coming from Columbia Falls and Kalispell.

Corson said the school is planning a capital campaign fundraiser that would include creating an endowment to sustain the music school in the future. The details of the building design will be released when the school launches its campaign this summer.

“We want to continue all our programming and expand to have more,” Corson said. “As we continue to grow and we also continue to have a growing population of students coming from Columbia Falls and Kalispell the new location will make it more accessible for more people.”

Project Whitefish Kids has agreed to release a portion of the Smith Fields property to the city so that the music school can lease the land.

City Manager Dana Smith says a lease with the music school would likely be handled similarly to other nonprofits that lease city property. Those that have leases for property and/or buildings with the city include Project Whitefish Kids, the WAVE, Whitefish Theatre Co. and Whitefish Lake Golf Club.

“The WAVE lease is likely the most comparable to this proposed project as the building was constructed through private funds and donated to the city,” she said. “The WAVE lease details the community benefits as a public facility which includes scholarships, rates must be reasonable to allow as many individuals as possible to afford the use of the WAVE, and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department is provided use of the facility at no cost.”

As with the WAVE and the O’Shaughnessy building leases, Smith noted, the music school would be required to provide maintenance of the land and the building, and provide use of the facility in a similar manner as has been done with the WAVE.

Smith said the city will have to confirm that the school is financially prepared to construct and maintain the facility, amend its agreement with Project Whitefish Kids and then negotiate a new lease agreement with the music school.