Agreement renewed for use of school facilities for emergency shelters

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With the threat of the Gibraltar Ridge fire looming nearby in Eureka, the Whitefish School District and the Red Cross have renewed an agreement to use school facilities as an emergency shelter.

The school district and the Red Cross drew up the agreement in 2015 when the Reynolds Creek Fire, among others in Glacier National Park, caused some pre-evacuation notices and had the Red Cross looking for options in case the situation worsened.

The Whitefish School Board approved the contract unanimously Aug. 17.

“I think it’s fairly common for school districts to have these agreements with Red Cross,” Superintendent Heather Davis Schmidt said. “Because of the Gibraltar Ridge fire in Eureka the Red Cross has contacted us again and asked for further assistance and asked us to up our agreement in case that should be necessary. Looking at how that fire is going right now, it may also be unnecessary. Things have been improving.”

The Gibraltar Ridge fire east of Eureka started Aug. 7 and has burned about 5,000 acres. Wildfires in western Montana continue to grow.

The agreement allows the district to permit the Red Cross to occupy school facilities as a service center, for the storage of supplies, for the parking of vehicles and as a disaster shelter in the case of an emergency.

A Red Cross facility manager will be appointed to oversee activities at the school facilities, while the school district will appoint its own coordinator to work alongside the Red Cross.

The district will not charge a fee for the use of school facilities. The Red Cross will reimburse for damage of property, custodial and food service costs, and utility costs, including water, gas, electricity and waste disposal.

Davis Schmidt said the only true cost to the district would be if an emergency overlapped with classes. However, she said the district has an obligation to open its doors to whoever is in need.

“There would be a significant opportunity cost if the use of the facilities conflicted with the start of school or if school was in session,” she said. “Regardless, I think as a school system, we have a responsibility to help out our neighbors in need.”

“We are one organization within the Whitefish community, and it’s true of all communities, the schools are often those facilities that can provide for those kinds of needs,” she added. “It’s nice to be able to think about how we support each other in an emergency or crisis.”

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