Sunday, August 07, 2022

North Valley Music School launches campaign for new school facility

Whitefish Pilot | July 20, 2022 1:00 AM

As the vibrant North Valley Music School approaches its 25th anniversary, the nonprofit is celebrating its growth and vitality over the years by launching a campaign for a new school facility.

The music school that operates out of a converted house on Spokane Avenue in the heart of Whitefish is overflowing with students of all ages. North Valley Music School (NVMS) has expanded its programs significantly in recent years and as the population increases the school is at overcapacity in its current location.

NVMS board members and staff say they want to continue to thrive and safely serve as many students as possible, and the school will be able to after signing an agreement with Project Whitefish Kids (PWK) to sublease land at Smith Fields for a new music facility and campus.

The fully accessible facility is predicted to more than double the studio and classroom space; it will also add indoor and outdoor multipurpose event spaces — something that is not available in the small house on Spokane.

“The new building will provide NVMS students, teachers and staff an ideal environment designed for music education,” says Lin Akey, co-chair of the NVMS capital campaign committee.

FOUNDED IN 1997, the North Valley Music School had a humble beginning by giving lessons in rooms at local churches and has since flourished into a school that serves hundreds of students every year. The school is unique in the state as the only nonprofit community music school in Montana, according to NVMS. It offers programs ranging from private and group lessons in several instruments to summer music camps and early childhood music opportunities.

Expansion of programming has led to the need for a new facility. Board members, advisors and staff and faculty have had ongoing conversations about the need for a new music campus for over a decade but NVMS Executive Director Deidre Corson says the timing and various potential properties just never worked out until now.

“We spent lots of time talking about a new school and it just seemed like this amazing long-term dream,” Corson recalled.

Project Whitefish Kids had offered space near the soccer fields years ago, but it wasn’t the right time. In 2020 PWK and NVMS resumed conversations about the possibility of a new school at Smith Fields. Both parties were on board and in June 2021 NVMS got initial approval from the City of Whitefish to lease land at Smith Fields for a new facility. In March 2022, the terms of the sublease between PWK and NVMS were set and approved by the Whitefish City Council.

“We are forever grateful to Project Whitefish Kids, the City of Whitefish and to our entire community that supports music education,” Corson said. “Together many supporters are bringing this long-time dream to fruition.”

Project Whitefish Kids is the nonprofit that manages the Smith Fields Complex. The nonprofit formed in the late 1990s to help bring soccer, baseball and softball facilities to Whitefish and make sports participation more accessible to local kids.

For PWK, subleasing the land to the music school was also a win-win. According to PWK Executive Director Gloria Nelson, adding a music campus to the facility will hopefully create a community hub for kids to participate in various activities.

“At this time in our world with all the mental health problems, it seems that music and sports are both a really great outlet for kids. We’re just excited to combine those two things and serve our community,” Nelson said.

FINAL DESIGN for the new music facility is nearing completion, and the most recent drawings show the potential for 14-16 private studios, an AV and music tech room, a group classroom, instrument lending library, faculty lounge and collaborative space, a large multipurpose room for events and recitals and much more. With the location off the main highway, it will also offer ample parking and a safe, accessible drop-off area.

That is a drastic improvement from how the school is operating now with just eight dedicated studio spaces within the school and renting outside studios as well as using space at the First Presbyterian Church for lessons and recitals. Though grateful to the church for its support of the NVMS over the years, Corson said they can’t wait to have all the classrooms and a recital hall together under one roof.

Input from students, staff, faculty, the board, donors and the greater community has all been taken into consideration while creating the design for the facility.

“We’ve been mindful about taking that input and making sure that it informs the design, the layout and the functionality of the actual structure,” NVMS Board President Christine Rossi said.

Corson said in addition to input from several stakeholders, NVMS has also been careful to consider not only the current needs of the school and the community but to look far into the future by creating a multifunctional music school that will serve the growing town and valley for decades to come.

“We’ve talked about, it’s not just building for today, it’s building for the next 50 years... figuring out how we can put the deepest roots in and flourish,” Corson said.

THE CAPITAL campaign titled “Be Instrumental” has gone through an extensive planning phase, a quiet fundraising phase and now is launching publicly. To date, the campaign is already over halfway to its goal of raising $5 million. According to NVMS, more than 45 individuals have made commitments to the campaign.

Rossi and NVMS Board Vice President Joel Lockwood say some key donors who are champions for the school have pledged donations to the campaign but additionally are always raising awareness for the school in the community.

“We are incredibly grateful for the support we've seen from our NVMS friends. Not only are they donors, but they are also advocates for our mission and have seen firsthand how music changes lives and communities,” Rossi said. "That perspective and ability to tell our story is really important, and helps us gain some momentum as we continue our fundraising campaign.”

The campaign is off to a promising start and will need additional community support to reach its goal and make the new NVMS campus a reality. There is not a set timeline for the build yet, but the school hopes to reach its fundraising goal in 2023 and is looking forward to getting started on the build as soon as possible.

“The longevity (of the school) is amazing and we couldn’t do this without our community, our donors, our supporters, families, faculty and staff,” Corson said. “It’s so cool to be a part of this family.”

For more information on the project, upcoming campaign events or to make a donation, call NVMS at 406-862-8074 or visit


A sign at the Smith Fields Complex shows the future site of the North Valley Music School campus. (Whitney England/Whitefish Pilot)

Recent Headlines