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Survey shows possible support for WHS building expansion

by WHITNEY ENGLAND
Whitefish Pilot | January 3, 2024 1:00 AM

Results from a recent poll suggest that 57% of voters would vote in favor of a bond measure that would expand the Whitefish High School building but not include a new athletic complex.

In the same survey, 46% of respondents said they would vote in favor of a separate bond measure that would expand the activities complex, but reduced in scope from the proposed expansion that was turned down by voters in October. About 30% said no and 24% were unsure of adding the athletic complex in reduced scope.

The results from the survey suggest that if the Whitefish School District were to split the Whitefish High School building expansion and athletic complex expansion into two bond measures, the public would likely approve the expansion of the academic facilities. A reduced-scope expansion of athletic facilities would be more likely to be approved by voters than the full expansion.

“You can see that it [shows] an interest in splitting the bonds, it looks like that may be something that is of interest to the community,” Whitefish Schools superintendent Dave Means said at a recent school board meeting. “As well as support for the high school expansion as presented in the previous bond election if that was presented on its own.

“Then if the activities complex was presented on its own there seemed to be some support if that was reduced in scope,” he added.

The poll, conducted by Beacon Research, was a “text-to-web survey” and all registered Whitefish voters with cell phones on the voter file were texted the survey from Nov. 16-27. The number of respondents was 289 people of 10,000 outgoing surveys. Means told the school board that Beacon Research said that is a pretty typical response to a survey by text and is meant to be a random sample of voters.

In October, Whitefish voters turned down a $33.7 million bond issue put forward by the Whitefish School District that would have funded an expansion of the high school and its athletic facilities. The measure failed 2,313 to 2,161.

About $22.1 million of the bond would have gone toward adding classrooms, shops and labs to the high school. The remaining $11.6 million would have funded the construction of an athletic complex for the high school.

Had the 20-year bond been approved, the owner of a home with an assessed market value of $600,000 could have anticipated an annual tax increase of $146.59.

Over the last year, Whitefish School District has been planning the expansion by discussing different concepts for both facilities and whether to include both academic and athletic improvements into one bond measure. 

After the bond that included major upgrades to both failed, the district now is considering its next steps to address the need for an expansion of the high school. According to a recent update of the district’s Long Term Facilities Plan, an expansion is needed because the high school nearing its design capacity. The plan pinpointed expanding the high school as the district’s top priority when it comes to facilities. The district has stated that increased enrollment is the largest factor in needing to expand the high school. 

Whitefish’s current athletic facilities are limited and the school rents fields from the Glacier Twins baseball program for football games and Smith Fields for soccer games. The expanded athletic facilities would have added several fields and other athletic spaces, a stadium and other features that the school lacks. Two concepts for the athletic facilities were considered and the board decided to include the full expansion on the October bond measure.

The district stated in a recent letter sent to families that it is gathering information and feedback from the community to begin the next bond proposal process. 

“We have had many conversations with stakeholders and have conducted strategic planning surveys with parents and staff, which included some questions related to our expansion. In addition, Beacon Research conducted another poll with Whitefish voters,” Whitefish Schools superintendent Dave Means stated in the letter.

The district’s Whitefish High School Expansion Committee will meet on Jan. 11 to discuss the latest feedback from surveys and decide the next steps for the WHS expansion proposals.

“We’ll look at this data, consider the concepts, consider a possible date for a bond election, then bring that back to the board for consideration,” Means said at the school board meeting.

For more information on the high school expansion project visit https://wsd44.org/ and click on “Whitefish High School Expansion Information.”