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Council approves temporary school building to be made permanent

by WHITNEY ENGLAND
Whitefish Pilot | January 12, 2022 1:00 AM

Whitefish City Council at a recent meeting unanimously approved a request from Whitefish Christian Academy to turn temporary buildings on the school’s property into permanent structures.

During the short discussion, Councilor Steve Qunell questioned whether the buildings would have a new design that would make them look less like mobile units after they are made permanent.

Matt Lawrance with Montana Creative, the architecture and design firm that the school hired for the project, was unsure how much the look of the buildings would change after they became permanent because it would depend greatly on the type of foundation the school decides to construct. But he says as of now the buildings are already skirted and it's difficult to tell they are temporary structures anyway.

“Once I know more about the structure of it and how it’s going to be screened or hidden it may change the look or it may not change it at all,” Lawrence told Council.

The temporary 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 conditional use permit to allow for the school to make them permanent buildings.

The quick decision by Council was prefaced a few weeks prior by a long discussion during a Planning Board meeting last month. Planning Board members were more reluctant to allow the buildings to become permanent.

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.

The board gave a positive recommendation for the project, but not before adding another condition on the CUP request that the school obtain approval from the city’s Architectural Review Committee for the buildings and site plan.

Other conditions also include that the buildings be brought up to proper building code and that a stormwater management system is in place before the buildings can be used again as classrooms or for storage.

City Council in 2014 granted approval for Whitefish Christian Academy to use the two temporary buildings for up to four years as the academy was growing fast and 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.

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

The CUP expired before the start of the 2021-22 school year and the buildings are currently sitting empty. The city offered the academy a couple of options which included either removing the buildings or making them permanent. The school opted to submit a new CUP to make the classroom buildings permanent as they’ve scaled back their expansion plans.

With the go-ahead from Council, the school can begin the process of making the buildings permanent. The temporary buildings are not allowed to be used at all until a certificate of occupancy is issued by the city.

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