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High school expansion options revealed at community meeting

by WHITNEY ENGLAND
Whitefish Pilot | December 28, 2022 1:00 AM

Whitefish High School expansion plans recently presented at a community meeting hosted by the school district show the addition of around 35,000 square feet that would add on 24 new classrooms, labs and shops as well as double the Whitefish Independent High School space.

Whitefish School District hosted the meeting in mid-December, during which the architect selected to lead the preliminary design and planning for the project, Cushing Terrell out of Missoula, presented three concept designs that would expand the area for academics. Cushing Terrell also showed two potential solutions for an on-site activities complex at the high school.

Though early in the planning process, the Whitefish School District could seek a bond from voters as early as 2023. The cost will likely range from $26.5 million to just over $34 million depending on the concepts chosen by the committee working on the process that would later need to be approved by the school board.

The district is looking at expanding the high school as enrollment is rapidly increasing and the current building is nearing its max design capacity of 600 students; this year there are 583 students enrolled in grades ninth through 12th. In late 2021, the district adopted a Long Range Facility Plan that recommended an expansion of the high school as a top district priority. Throughout 2022, the district started the planning process which so far includes hiring an architect to lead the process, hosting community engagement meetings and gathering survey results to identify needs of the community.

“It’s an exciting time for us as we look forward to the growth and expansion of our high school, and as we respond to the growth within our schools,” said Whitefish Superintendent Dave Means at the meeting.

The district held a meeting in October and another in December to gather input from residents. In the most recent meeting, school board members, school administrators, the architects and community members discussed the project. Members in attendance asked questions and stated their opinion on the preliminary designs and what the district should be considering.

The committee is designing the expansion to meet the needs of the school for the next 20 years, but some residents believed that didn’t look ahead far enough. Some were concerned about how to reach voters to make sure a bond of that size would be approved, while others hoped the district would go ahead with both the expansion of the academic classroom area as well as the athletic complex and not choose just one of them.

Representatives from Cushing Terrell presented three concepts that were designed after gathering preliminary data from the community and the district’s high school expansion committee.

The South Addition Concept would add space to the south side of the high school that would feature a new career and technical education (CTE) wing on the southeast corner, as well as two new areas for classrooms and the Whitefish Independent High School.

The North Addition design has a large L-shaped building added to the north side of the building near the entrance closest to the gymnasium and music department. The addition would provide a second commons area as well as classrooms and shop space for CTE. However, the cons are that it would add a lot of walking distance and present potential security issues.

The last design presented was called the Hybrid Additions which would add new wings on both the north and south sides of the building. The Hybrid model keeps the L-shaped building added to the north side, but it is less prominent as it wouldn’t extend all the way to Fourth Street. It would still provide an additional commons area while adding some classroom areas for electives as well as CTE. Then another wing on the south side would add larger shop space for CTE classes.

Many in the meeting favored the Hybrid Additions concept as it provides a more balanced expansion of the high school.

“With the hybrid plan, I think what really stood out to some of the members of the committee is it did enable more of a connection between the Center for Sustainability and the high school… Even though the high school will be going up to 700-800 students, you want to have spaces that feel small, culturally strong and safe. This adds the commons space on the north part of campus that can fulfill that need without stretching out the high school to the point where it doesn’t feel unified,” a committee member stated.

There were two athletic complex designs presented as well. The first option is creating a new track with grandstands and a football field. Also included would be additional parking and a multipurpose building. This was the simpler, less expensive option.

The second option is a complete sports complex that includes the same track, football field and grandstands, same as Option A, but also has a combined football/soccer field with grandstands and an extra practice field. Multi-purpose buildings and additional parking were also mentioned.

“Ultimately the goal is bringing all the athletes home — that is the end goal,” said Cushing Terrell project manager and architect Fran Quiram.

Whitefish School District previously gathered feedback in a survey and is now orchestrating an additional survey to gather input from the community. Additional community meetings will also be held in the future.

“It's not too late to give us your valuable feedback that will actually shape the future of your schools,” said Corey Johnson, an educational planner with Cushing Terrell.

For more information, or to watch the community engagement meeting in a full recording, visit wsd44.org and click on the WHS Expansion Needs tab. Email questions or feedback to whs.expansion@whitefishschools.org.

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