The unveiling of the approximately $19 million Flathead High School construction project to the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday was a time to celebrate the future, but also remember the past.
Business members and current and former Flathead staff filed into the main entrance of the new addition along Fifth Avenue West. One of the architectural features of the addition were art deco style medallions, a nod to the school’s history. Some of the medallions were once part of the old small gym building, which was constructed in the 1920s and demolished in 2018 along with the oldest section of the school, referred to as the “half floors,” that dated back to 1910.
About 27,500 square feet of the existing building that contained 10 classrooms, a staff lounge, a large lecture room, some custodial work areas and the small gym, was demolished.
In its place, is approximately 47,997 square feet of new construction that includes 17 classrooms, locker rooms, breakout spaces, conference rooms, a boiler room and an auxiliary gym where attendees took their seats on Tuesday.
The Flathead renovation and expansion was designed by architects and engineers L’Heureux Page Werner and Morrison-Maierle, and constructed by Swank Enterprises.
Flathead High School Principal Michele Paine named off several people who worked on the construction project who were also alumni.
“So the tradition runs deep. There’s a lot of pride in this building,” Paine said.
Kalispell Superintendent Mark Flatau said the project is wrapping up under budget by approximately $900,000.
Flatau and Paine both expressed gratitude to the community in supporting the $28.8 million high school district bond issue that funded the Flathead project. The bond issue is also funding renovations and expansion projects at the H.E. Robinson Vocational Agriculture Center and Linderman Education Center, both currently under construction.
Voters in Kalispell and 13 partner districts whose students attend the district’s two high schools, approved the bond issue in October 2016.
The project was not without its challenges as crews worked while school was in session.
Tying old construction into new, and expanding on a limited footprint was also quite a feat according to Tom Coburn of Morrison-Maierle and Max Grebe of L’Heureux Page Werner.
“Once we got the half floors out, and got the boiler plant moved, and we got rid of the lecture hall — that really gave us the space that we needed to untangle the project and put it back together,” Grebe said.
The Flathead High School project stems from a district-wide facility planning project that got underway in 2015.
“This vision came forward with a bunch of pieces of foam core and we were just pushing them around a tabletop trying to figure out how to make them all come together,” Grebe noted earlier. “We knew we needed gym space. We knew we needed classroom space. We knew we needed flexible 21st-century learning areas. We just didn’t know how it was all going to go together and how it was all going to work.”
Flatau highlighted the improved flow of the building.
“You will see as you walk from the old into the new and from the new into the old it is seamless. Now, you can go anywhere on the first floor in Flathead High School and anywhere on the second floor in Flathead High School and that’s an amazing feat we could not do before,” Flatau said.
AFTER SOME closing remarks, the crowd broke up into groups to tour the building.
Retired teachers Sue Corrigan, who is also a school board trustee, Lori Ortely and Kim Nystuen joined Flathead special education teacher Lisa Fant’s group.
As they rounded the corner to the top of what staff has called the “grand staircase” the group stopped in amazement.
“It’s amazing, this is just beautiful,” Ortley said, who retired in June.
“Flathead just came into the modern age,” Nystuen said, with a laugh, putting her arm around Corrigan. Nystuen taught at the school for about 13 years.
“Thank goodness,” Corrigan said, who taught at the school for 17 years.
The group asked each other how many remodels they each went through. The last major remodel to Flathead was the commons addition in 2007.
The group stopped at one of the highlights of the classrooms, a biomedical lab where teachers Linzi Napier and Kaylee Fox spoke about the specialized program. Previously, the biomedical teachers were in a regular classroom and had to move to another science room if they were doing labs that required ventilation.
“Across the hallway is the computer lab where we’ll do online simulations and research,” Fox said.
Another highlight of the renovation is a life skills room for students with special needs that contains an ADA-compliant kitchen, bathroom with a shower, washer/dryer. Previously, all life skills programming was housed at Glacier High School. A life skills room at Flathead means that students can attend their neighborhood high school.
“I love it,” said Corrigan, who was a special ed teacher during her tenure.
Earlier, Paine noted that the renovation project was a long time coming.
“In 2016, we were just delighted as a school when the bond passed and our time had finally come, we really believed in that,” Paine said, and traced the history of building the new Flathead High School.
And, as a new class of freshman visit the building Wednesday to find their lockers and get their schedules, and new teachers organize their classrooms, Paine said they won’t necessarily know what the “half floors” were, but what they will discover are the opportunities the new space provides.
“It’s a time of transition. A time of change and we are so grateful to the community of Kalispell for supporting this bond,” Paine said.
The public is invited to a dedication ceremony at 5 p.m. Aug. 27 at the school.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or email@example.com.