Safety driving design of school

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Muldown Elementary School was constructed in 1966 and a major renovation of the building was completed in 1992. (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)

Early designs for the new Muldown Elementary School building are focusing on safety.

Speaking to about 20 people in the Muldown multi-purpose room, architect Steve L’Heureux of L’Heureux, Page and Werner recently presented on a preliminary design and discussed safety and traffic solutions in the new building. LPW was selected by the Whitefish School Board in December to design the new school after voters last fall approved a $26.5 million bond for construction.

The early design shows a two-story school housing the kindergarten wing on the west side of the building and first through fourth-grade classrooms in an upside-down “V” shape to the east. The gym, receiving area and cafeteria would be set to the north, separated from the east classrooms by the two-story library media center.

The playground will remain where it is to the west of the school.

One main feature of the design was the number of and layout of the entrances.

In the new school, LPW envisions a single main entrance at the front on the south side, with a wide set of windows that allow the front office, also set in front of the building to see who is coming into the school. Separate staff and receiving entrances will be set back in the north and east sides of the school.

“[We want] as many eyes as we can get looking at that front area, so if somebody starts coming into the building that we don’t like, we can stop them before there’s any access points,” L’Heureux said. “That’s going to be a really big deal in how we control the access points to this building. A lot of it is being able to have the time to recognize a possible threat before it hits the door.”

In addition, L’Heureux said they’re looking into systems that could be triggered by main office staff and other administrators that would electronically close and lock all doors in a shut down situation.

The Muldown Project Task Force is back to give shape to the new school. L’Heureux met with the task force last month in the first set of three meetings set on working out spacing and the basic designs of a new Muldown.

During the meeting, L’Heureux also noted the importance of controlling the flow of traffic at the site of the school.

The busy traffic at the current Muldown is what began the entire process leading up to proposing a new school, he reminded the task force.

“All of this started — everything, any planning at all — started as a discussion of, ‘How can we do anything about the traffic and safety and the delivery and pickup of children at the school.’ All of the planning was based on how can we solve that problem,” he said.

To achieve traffic control, a one-way drop-off lane would run in front of the main entrance to the south next to the corner of Pine Avenue and Seventh Street, running to the west and only allowing a right turn back on to Pine Avenue heading north.

The design is supposed to help keep traffic moving and hopefully funnel vehicles off of Pine Avenue and Seventh Street and into other arterial streets between the school and Spokane Avenue, L’Heureux said.

District Superintendent Heather Davis Schmidt said the district has also been working with the city on trying to find better solutions for traffic.

Speaking to City Councilor Richard Hildner, who was also on the original task force, Davis Schmidt asked for some brainstorming on ways to deal with the high volume of cars on that intersection.

“When we had all the city people around the table,” she said. “One of the conversations was about the fact that we have all this traffic coming to this one place and the city streets cannot accommodate the amount of traffic coming to this place, and yet there doesn’t seem to be any real ability to address that from the city’s perspective. So if you guys can push on that and come up with some other options, that would be fabulous.”

During the meeting, Hildner also advocated for building in bike paths and parking for students who might be able to bike to school rather than get a ride from their parents or the bus.

District Curriculum Director Ryder Delaloye also noted that fixing traffic problems is in-line with the district’s goals of sustainability.

“Just as much as the dispersion is a behavioral component, so are those other pieces, and that fits within this broader ethos of adhering to this sustainability concept,” he said. “Not everybody dropping their kid off singularly, but rather how do we address this in a long-term holistic manner and from a sustainable practice and also an efficiency measure?”

The new building would also feature an 8,000-square-foot gym that seats 300 at its maximum.

Dana Grove, a first grade teacher, also proposed expanding the size and seating of the gym to offer another place for community and student events other than the high school gym.

Tim Peterson, architect at LPW, said the maximum seating of 300 in the proposed gym is probably more than needed for most events, and if the gym is to be expanded, cuts will have to be made in other parts of the design to stay in budget. However, Peterson said if the idea gains enough community traction they’ll explore it further.

L’Heureux said it’s true the team is working fast, but the project is a big one and needs to stick to schedule.

“If it seems like we’re moving at light speed, we are,” he said. “Because the plan is to break ground in September or October.”

The task force is set to meet again March 22 and is set to hold a subsequent meeting after to finish up on the space plan and basic designs of the school.

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