Committee to look at district’s facility needs

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Columbia Falls School District is seeking educators, parents, community members and businesses to join a long-range elementary facility planning committee.

About 30 to 50 people are needed to serve on the committee that will meet monthly beginning in September. Leading the facility planning process is Great Falls-based L’Heureux Page Werner. Planners will help participants work through ideas and provide cost estimates from maintaining the status quo to constructing new buildings.

The architectural and engineering firm previously led district-wide facility planning for Kalispell Public Schools and master planning for Muldown Elementary in Whitefish and Somers Middle School in Somers.

“The long-range planning committee will review the age, structural integrity and building capacity of our current elementary facilities as well as determine the best direction to take moving forward,” Columbia Falls School District Superintendent Steve Bradshaw said.

Glacier Gateway and Ruder are the district’s kindergarten- through fifth-grade elementary schools and will be the main focus of facility planning.

Glacier Gateway is unique in that it is composed of two buildings. Kindergarten through third grade attend a one-story building believed by the district to have been constructed in the ’50s. Next door, fourth- and fifth-graders attend school in a two-story building constructed in 1940. This building originally served as a high school and also was a junior high for a period of time. Ruder was built in 1974, with the last major construction project being a classroom and gym addition in 1995.

The non-operating Canyon Elementary in Hungry Horse is also part of the district’s elementary facilities. The district currently rents the building to community organizations.

Big-ticket repairs are coming up, such as roof and boiler replacements, as the buildings age. It’s time to look at whether or not the facilities are meeting the needs of modern education, Bradshaw said.

“All the buildings have been extremely well maintained,” Bradshaw said. “The question we want to ask the community is how much more money do we want to put into these buildings?”

Also playing a role in starting the facility planning process now is that the $12 million bond issue that funded construction of Columbia Falls Junior High will come off the tax rolls in 2020.

The school board has been approached by a Boys and Girls Club of Glacier Country steering committee to donate land near Ruder to build a complex to serve the program and the school district. Bradshaw is a member of that steering committee.

The elementary facility planning process will result in a recommendation being made to the school board tentatively in January or February 2019. If there is agreement that construction is needed, there is potential that a bond issue could make it on the May 2019 ballot, Bradshaw said.

People interested in serving on the facility planning committee should call Administrative Assistant Marie Birky at 406-892-6550, ext. 1422, and leave a name and contact information, or email Bradshaw at sbradshaw@cfmtschools.net.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

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