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District seeks firm to assist in planning high school expansion

by WHITNEY ENGLAND
Whitefish Pilot | February 23, 2022 1:00 AM

The Whitefish School District is moving forward with planning for a possible high school expansion in order to address the enrollment increases that are occurring now and are anticipated to continue in future years.

The district is specifically seeking an architectural or engineering firm to assist in the initial planning for an expansion of Whitefish High School and Activities Complex. Firms have the opportunity to present a proposal that would address several needs of the high school and if the district were to find interest in one of the proposals it would likely hire an architect or engineer at its school board business meeting in April.

“We’re excited about this opportunity to consider expansion of the high school facilities and activity areas due to our enrollment increases,” Whitefish Superintendent Dave Means expressed in a recent school board meeting. “We’re looking forward to this process.”

An expansion of the high school building was deemed a potential solution to a fast-growing student population in a long-range facility plan for Whitefish School District that was completed in November. In creating the plan, the committee determined addressing capacity issues at the high school was the number one priority going forward.

The Whitefish School Board in its February meeting was happy to see the district already taking action to hopefully alleviate the capacity issues at the high school.

“I’m excited to see what comes of it,” Board Chair Katie Clarke said. “It's an exciting thing to rally around.”

The current Whitefish High School building opened in 2014 after an extensive renovation, however, using a 2% growth rate the long-range plan predicts the building will need additional space to accommodate a growing student population.

At the time of completing the facility plan, enrollment in Whitefish High was 581 students which is nearing the design capacity of the building that is capped at 600 students. The plan predicts the high school will likely surpass that capacity mark in just two years and the district needs to act now to address the issue.

“What will happen with (the high school) in the near term is probably going to be one of the key issues that your board is going to have to make some determination around,” Darlene Schottle, an education consultant hired by the district to help facilitate the long-range plan, said in a previous board meeting.

The plan suggested a few options to address enrollment and capacity issues at the high school, like constructing a new wing to the school, reconfiguring grade levels, or utilizing alternate school district spaces. An expansion of some sort was determined to be the preferred option by the committee working on the facility plan.

The facility plan also suggests options for the future of the other district buildings, but the high school is the facility in dire need of addressing the concerning issues brought on by nearing capacity. The district first began work on the long-range facility plan in August

The district is seeking a firm that could help with planning by providing renderings and 3D modeling as needed, conceptual cost estimates, identifying programming requirements, facilitating planning exercises, assistance in developing a capital bond or levy program if needed and more. Additionally, the school district seeks a firm that has experience in projects of a similar size and scope.

After reviewing the proposals submitted, the district anticipates selecting a firm to design the project, however has the right to accept or reject any of the responses.

Formal proposals from architectural or engineering firms interested in the project are due on March 11. The committee formed to assist with this process, comprised of district staff and school board members, is scheduled to conduct interviews the week of March 14 and anticipate selecting a firm in early April.