Whitefish voters last week supported their schools at the polls, passing a $26.5 million bond request to construct a new Muldown Elementary school.
The vote passed by 61.4 percent, paving the way for the Whitefish School District to construct a new elementary school to house growing enrollment and provide a solution to issues surrounding the current aging school building.
“Just a huge thank you to the Whitefish voters and the Whitefish community for their continued support and investment in the future of our kids. This is such an important investment in our community and our kids and I couldn’t be more thankful,” Superintendent Heather Davis Schmidt said.
“Now we still have three more winters to get through ... but there’s a light at the end of tunnel,” she added.
The votes in the mail-in election were 2,399 in favor to 1,508 against, according to the school district.
First constructed in 1966 with major renovations in 1992, the current Muldown school is now the largest elementary school in the state.
The 50-year-old building suffers a number of infrastructure issues, including a failing heating system and a roof that wasn’t designed to handle Whitefish’s snow load.
While Muldown was originally built to comfortably house 600 students, last year 670 kids walked the halls, and this year about 710 students are enrolled in the K-4 school. The increases in enrollment have lead to makeshift classrooms, a lack of staff offices and insufficient storage space.
The School District asked voters to approve the bond to construct a new school following about two years of study. The new Muldown is proposed to be about 84,000-square-feet over two stories and include a new gym, and be designed to house about 755 students.
Property taxes will see increase of about $130 annually for a home with a taxable value of about $240,000 as a result of the bond, according to the school district.
“That was a huge hurdle. It’s full speed ahead now. I am still pinching myself, like, ‘Am I going to wake up?’” Muldown Principal Linda Whitright said of passing the bond request. “I hope the community realizes it but I have really stepped back and gone, ‘Wow, we are so fortunate — again. [The voters are] supporting these schools, and that’s huge.”
While Whitright said she was optimistic about passing the request, she knew the school and the Muldown Project Task Force had a challenge in showing voters the less-obvious issues with the school.
“I knew we were doing the best job we could to get the information out there, because the issues we are dealing with aren’t just out there in your face — you’ve got to go in the tunnels, see the heating systems, go on the roof. Well who notices that? With the wonderful things happening here you don’t really realize that there’s something wrong,” she said. “So I felt good, we’ve messaged it well, we’ve been honest, we’ve been transparent, we’ve done what we can do.”
The School Board is expected to canvas the election results at its meeting on Tuesday.
The board will also vote on whether to continue working with architectural firm L’Heureux, Page and Werner or send out a Request for Qualifications for a new design team, as well as approve an RFQ to select a General Contractor/Construction Management contract for the project. The administrative recommendations are to contine with LPW and move forward with finding a contractor.
After that, the design work will begin.
Whitright said she’s heard eight months as the hopeful date for breaking ground on the new school, with students moving in by 2020.
Just as the community was integrated into the Muldown Project Task Force, Whitright said it will be important to keep community members involved in the design process.
“That’s so important. This isn’t just ours, this is everybody’s and we want that input and feedback,” she said.
“I hope [the community] realizes that all the great things that have always been a part of Muldown will continue,” Whitright added. “Their kids are still going be educated to the best of our ability like we’ve always done we appreciate the support they’ve shown us. I know they trust us to deliver and I trust this staff will do the best they can and live up to the support.”