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Kalispell schools nearing capacity — District to start long-range facility planning

by HILARY MATHESON
Daily Inter Lake | September 20, 2022 12:00 AM

Kalispell Public Schools will begin extensive long-range facility planning as more of the district’s schools near capacity levels.

The district released a request for qualifications Monday to hire consultants to facilitate the planning process. The goal is to develop a “big picture” master plan that officials can reference for the next 20 years, Superintendent Micah Hill said.

The work will include a facilities review, a demographic study, recommendations and an implementation plan, among other items.

In addition to evaluating facilities in terms of capacity and condition, Hill said the district wants to look at long-term growth from both a city and county perspective, nodding to the surrounding 13 partner school districts whose students eventually attend Flathead and Glacier high schools. “What does that long-range growth look like? And then a demographic study — where are those things happening? What are the growth rates on individual grade levels or age groups?” he said.

The district’s hope is to complete the long-range facility planning process by June 2023.

The district went through a facility planning process to address overcrowding and aging infrastructure that resulted in voter-approved bonds totaling $54 million in 2016. The bonds funded construction of Rankin Elementary School along with renovation and expansion projects for its five other elementary and high school buildings. School district boundaries were subsequently adjusted in 2019.

Since then, Flathead County’s largest school district and the City of Kalispell have continued to grow.

Assistant superintendents Matt Jensen and Peter Fusaro recently gave an enrollment update in a presentation on building capacity and how space in schools is used as education demands change over time. Montana schools will conduct official enrollment counts in October and February, which determines state funding amounts.

Building capacity is driven by physical size, class size limits, scheduling and educational programming, according to the district. One of the challenges schools with capacity issues face is not meeting state accreditation standards for class size, and elementary students, in particular, may not be able to attend their neighborhood school as outlined by district boundaries. Jensen reported that 41 elementary students currently attend schools outside their neighborhoods.

As of Aug. 18, Rankin was at 97% of building capacity; Edgerton and Hedges elementary schools were both at 95%; Peterson Elementary, 77%; Elrod Elementary, 71%; and Russell Elementary, 69%.

Another issue that middle and high schools face is that students may not be able to take classes of their choice based on scheduling and space limitations as well as safety recommendations in subjects such as art, music, science (labs), technology and shop. Fusaro described current high school enrollment numbers as “history-making,” with Flathead at capacity with an enrollment of 1,543 students and Glacier above capacity at 1,415 students.

Kalispell Middle school is also at capacity, with 1,075 students enrolled, according to the district.

According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, Kalispell’s population, as of July 2021, was 26,110 people. The 2020 Census put the municipality’s population at 24,558.

Approximately 26% of the population is made up of children under 18.

RFQ’s are due by 2 p.m. Oct. 3 and must be submitted to Denise Williams, director of business services, Kalispell Public Schools, 233 First Ave. E., Kalispell, MT 59901.

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

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