Whitefish voters are being asked, again, to pass a bond to renovate and expand the local high school. Previous bond requests over the past decade have failed, the most recent in 2008. This time the city, school, and private funds have been committed to the project to bring down the cost being requested from the tax payer.
The wide foyer of Whitefish High’s main entryway is lined on both sides with glass cases filled with trophies, medals and awards students have brought back to the school over the decades. Spanning the floor between the cases fold-able lunch tables line up, because the entryway doubles as a cafeteria for Whitefish High.
“One of the big, most obvious changes to this area; there will actually be a full scale cafeteria dining area,” said Bayard Dominick of Steeplechase Development Partners of Whitefish. A few years ago the school board hired Steeplechase to help them look at how to update the building.
Dominick said one classroom wing built in the mid 1950’s and another built in the late 1970’s would be replaced with all new classroom space where the current parking lot sits. He said the plan works within 40-percent of the existing footprint, with 60-percent being replaced with new construction.
This bond request represents the culmination of more than two years of work to find a way to update the school with the backing of the community. A 2008 bond request $21.5-million failed. Since then the city has committed Tax Increment Funds as has the school district, the district received a state grant, private donations and redesign have combined to bring down the total cost to $19-million, with $14-million being requested from tax payers.
Steeplechase put out plans for public comment, and put together a Future’s Committee made up of teachers, parents and community members to come up with the current design plan.
“It’s really been an evolution,” Dominick said, “the aesthetic of the school has changed based on the feedback from the community, the elements within the school have changed in terms of the program we went through a very long, detailed sort of community outreach to try to get their feedback in; this plan responds to the feedback we’ve gotten from the community and the faculty.”
Keeping classwork from being disrupted during construction is among the feedback the futures Committee received. Dominick said they address this by building new classroom space instead of reworking old space. A program element that changed in response to feedback is the inclusion of a space large enough for lectures, standardized testing, and performance. The changes also make room for new technology and teaching methods.
Dominick said the current classroom space and layout was designed for another era, “it was really designed in the old Ford factory model of education where it was all square boxes designed to have 30 kids sitting at desks watching a teacher giving a lecture in a really old style education where kids would just take notes, listen to lectures, and then be tested once a week, or once a month to regurgitate the information that they learned.”
Principal of Whitefish High Dave Carlson said now they like to present a topic using a cross-discipline teaching method “that’s often referred to as co-curricular, and it’s nothing new, it’s been going on for a number of years, however, we’ve not been able to do it in this building because of the size and restrictions we have.”
The design also calls for bringing the building up to code for seismic concerns, emergency lighting, fire suppression sprinklers, and accessibility. Ballots went out Tuesday and are due back by March 15th.