The Bigfork High School $14 million addition and renovation was completed ahead of schedule and under budget.
Construction started in May 2016 and was anticipated to be completed by January, but was finished a week before Thanksgiving with approximately $90,000 remaining in a contingency fund.
“It’s pretty remarkable to come in and be ahead of schedule and under budget — and capture what we wanted to accomplish,” said Bigfork Superintendent Matt Jensen.
This achievement took an “extremely good team” said Project Superintendent Mark Casalegno of Hammerquist Casalegno, who himself is a Bigfork High School graduate. In addition to Hammerquist and school district staff, the team included CTA architects.
It has been several decades since the high school has undergone major construction.
The construction and renovation project added about 36,000 square feet to the high school’s footprint.
The project included eight new classrooms, four locker rooms, a community room, serving kitchen, bus barn, courtyard, gym expansion and library relocation to the first floor, among other renovations to the existing building and vocational education center. Facilities were brought up to code with fire and safety regulations and into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Jensen said he was “extremely pleased” with the final product.
“I think they gave us a product that the entire community can be proud of,” Jensen said.
Bigfork High School Principal Alan Robbins said the completed project went beyond his expectations. There is a perceptible difference in the school environment since the transformation he said. The building is more conducive to modern learning and group work while serving as an inviting place where students want to be.
“Kids are really using and enjoying the space,” Robbins said.
Robbins and Jensen thanked students for their patience during construction and noted the pride they have displayed through care and upkeep of the facility.
On the night of Dec. 5, the high school was full of sports fans at a basketball game and community members taking student-led tours of the renovated building.
The school’s new main entrance opens to a foyer where people were seated enjoying food from a taco bar in the new serving kitchen. Nearby, children purchased goodies from a concessions stand. Cheers from inside the renovated gym could be heard.
In a seating area outside the main office, sophomore Josie Howlett and senior Lara Guenzler waited to lead people on building tours.
Crossing over from the new addition to the renovated existing building is virtually seamless. “Before” photos are posted around the building to help people see what changes were made.
What wowed Howlett and Guenzler was the spaciousness and lightness of the building, especially the classrooms, which are a major upgrade. It’s easier to spread out and do group work, labs or large projects, according to Howlett and Guenzler.
Another marked improvement, Howlett noted, are seating arrangements staged throughout common areas of the building where students can hang out, eat lunch and study.
A few classes previously held at the elementary/middle school due to space restrictions in the old building, have moved back into the high school. Among those classes were life skills and students who needed to use the computer lab. Now, the high school has its own computer lab, an adequately sized life skills/resource room along with a multimedia production room for journalism and yearbook students.
In addition to a regular door, some classrooms also have sliding glass doors. The sliding glass doors allow teachers to extend the classroom out into the hallway, or allow students to work outside the classroom while remaining visible to teachers Howlett explained.
The furniture choices also offer flexibility in how seating is arranged. Jensen commended Robbins’ involvement in the construction project, specifically how he spearheaded the selection process on what furniture, fixtures and equipment to buy based on teacher input.
One of the many highlights of the project, are two science labs — one outfitted for physics, chemistry and anatomy, the other for biology, astronomy and forensics. The two rooms share a fume hood in their adjoining wall. The labs are now large enough to accommodate lab workstations and regular desks and chairs, which wasn’t possible before. Previously students had to work in an inadequately-sized lab separate from their classroom.
In addition to taking advantage of natural light, architects set their sights on Bigfork Bay.
“And out there is the bay,” Howlett said in one of the second-floor classrooms. “Right below here would be the sitting area [courtyard].”
Although it is dark outside, the water is visible beneath lights dotting the shore.
One of the stops on the tour that Howlett was excited to show off was the band room. A clarinet player, Howlett talked about the acoustics and practice rooms. Next door is a similarly designed choir room.
A central feature of the building is the library, which was moved from the second floor to the first. A roll-up wall and movable shelving are just more examples where design and function meet in providing schools with flexibility in how spaces are used.
One of the last stops on the tour was the community room, located just beyond the library. Wrestlers were busy practicing inside. Howlett and Guenzler said cheerleaders also practice in the room, but it also available for community meetings and events.
Bigfork residents Nancy and Rick Trembath were quite impressed after touring the building.
“It’s so welcoming,” Nancy said.
She said it was great to see the results of the community’s investment in its youth.
“We’re just delighted the community went for the bond to support our young people,” she said.
The remaining contingency money will be used to complete projects that were set aside for later consideration if money was available through the value engineering process. Projects slated for completion include: an extra sidewalk, additional parking spaces (between 10-15), multimedia equipment (green screen production space and additional computers), and dry storage on the vocational education building.
In addition to completing these projects the district plans to retain around $20,000 in contingency money for a year in the event an issue arises and funds are needed.
Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or email@example.com.