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School district gathering data to aid in school expansion project; board approves emergency plan

by WHITNEY ENGLAND
Whitefish Pilot | November 23, 2022 1:05 AM

The Whitefish School Board recently held its monthly business meeting and discussed a variety of topics including the progress on the planning of a high school expansion, approving the new Emergency Operations Plan and extending a bus route.

WHS expansion progress

As part of the beginning stages of planning a Whitefish High School expansion, the Whitefish School District is beginning to compile data from community feedback collected both through a community meeting last month and a recent survey.

A committee formed specifically to guide this process was due to start looking at the data in a meeting this month and in a later School Board meeting the findings will likely be presented to the board and the public.

“I think it’s an exciting time for us to gather as much information as we can and be able to get feedback about both an expansion of our high school learning facilities as well as our athletic complex,” said Whitefish Superintendent Dave Means.

In the fall of 2021, Whitefish School District concluded and adopted a Long Range Facility Plan. Recommendations from this Plan identified significant growth and critical needs of the High School as the top District priority. The High School Expansion Planning process has just begun, a Planning Committee was formed, and they are at the onset of identifying needs, setting priorities, and developing a long-term plan that best addresses growth. The Planning Committee is asking you to give your insights and feedback to launch this process by responding to the following survey.

The Whitefish School District adopted a new Long Range Facility Plan in the fall of 2021 and the plan identified increased enrollment and the need to expand the high school facilities as a top priority. In the spring, the district began its planning process for a potential high school building expansion that would include creating additional learning spaces as well as an activities complex.

In May, the Whitefish School Board unanimously approved the selection of the Cushing Terrell architect firm out of Missoula to lead the preliminary design and planning for the project. In the fall the school district in conjunction with the architects hosted a community meeting and then in early November, they promoted a community survey to help identify the needs and priorities of the high school to aid the direction of the expansion project.

The survey asked several questions, some including asking what should be the top guiding principles of the planning process as well as the highest priorities for the new facility to include. The survey also asked community members to rate the importance of expanding the high school learning facilities and rate the importance of the district having its own athletic complex, as well as additional questions or feedback.

Means emphasized that the district is at the onset of gathering information and identifying needs that the expansion would address. The survey, put together by Cushing Terrell, was due back on Nov. 11.

The district plans to have additional community meetings and ways of gathering feedback as the process continues.

Emergency Operations Plan

The Whitefish School Board also unanimously approved the 2022-23 Emergency Operations Plan that guides the school district's response to various emergency situations that could arise.

The school board held a work session in October where administrators and board members worked on the new document.

“This document really outlines our procedures and our process related to our emergency operations… it focuses on our incident command structure, our goals and responsibilities related to that,” Superintendent Dave Means said.

Means added that the process of creating the document is unique as the district was able to include not only school administrators and personnel in the planning process but also the Whitefish Police and Fire Departments. With the police and fire departments on the same page with the schools, it will help the organization of handling an emergency on school grounds.

“We’re very fortunate that we get to work so closely with them in the development of something like this…” Means said. “We’re following a similar process and procedure in terms of communication in all of our roles and responsibilities.”

The plan details the procedure for a variety of potential emergency situations, such as fire or forest fire, flooding, active threat, severe storms and more.

At the beginning of the document, it states the purpose of the Emergency Operations Plan.

“The purpose of the Whitefish School District Emergency Operations Plan (School EOP) is to identify and respond to incidents by outlining the responsibilities and duties of Whitefish Schools and their employees, students, and families. Developing, maintaining, training, and exercising the plan empowers everyone involved in an incident to act quickly and to be well informed,” the document reads.

You can view the full document on the Whitefish School District website https://wsd44.org/ under the latest school board meeting.

Transportation route extension

The school board also voted unanimously to extend a school bus route that would stop at a newer subdivision and would serve at least one family now with more in the future.

Josh Branstetter, principal at Whitefish Middle School, is also the district’s transportation liaison with Rocky Mountain Transportation which provides the school busses for the Whitefish School District. Branstetter presented the proposed route extension, which he said would add 5.2 miles of extra driving per day. With 128 remaining school days, the route extension would be an extra $1,044 this year.

There was an identified need in Route Two, which picks up kids along Highway 93 South. The new bus stop is at Harvest View Lane in a subdivision off Church Drive. Branstetter says it would serve four WMS students and one Muldown student currently and help ensure more consistent school attendance.

After the Whitefish School Board approved the extension, Branstetter now takes the proposal to the Flathead County Transportation Committee to get approval before they can go ahead with the route extension.

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