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Whitefish High School Transformation Underway
Crews reach milestone with gym remodel and the upcoming completion of a new fitness center
The new north wall bleachers and new floor are seen installed in the Whitefish High School gymnasium. Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon
As the school year approaches, construction crews are hard at work ushering in a new era at Whitefish High School.

The first phase of the school’s extensive reconstruction project is nearing completion and expected to be ready when students stream the hallways in late August.

The gymnasium has been entirely remodeled with a new basketball court, expandable bleachers and upcoming state-of-the-art fitness center, while the foundation has been laid for the remaining redevelopment of the high school, which remains on track to be completed by August 2014.

“It looks beautiful. The new paint. The new bleachers. The new floor. It all gives it that feeling of an entirely new structure even though it’s only been refurbished,” Principal Kerry Drown said.

While the most significant aspects of Whitefish High School’s transformation are still a year away, students returning to the classrooms this fall will be greeted by the renovated gym and a few other noticeable upgrades.

Crews are putting the finishing touches on the locker rooms and a new athletic training facility and weight room, which are being funded by a recent donation of more than $1 million from the Iron Horse Foundation.

The local nonprofit charitable organization announced in late June that it was lending a huge hand to the high school renovation by paying for the upgraded weight room and athletic facility adjacent to the gym.

“I think it will be a great addition to the high school,” said Murray Craven, an Iron Horse board member. “Our mission statement is to assist youth in Whitefish. This high school project really will affect all of our youth coming to our school system. This was a perfect opportunity for us.”

The dual-use fitness center will feature a roughly 2,500-square-foot weight room with all new equipment, and another 2,500 square feet of the facility will be designed for cardio, plyometric and speed training.

“It will not only help our athletes but also our PE classes and our everyday students who want to stay active and fit,” Drown said. “It really has precipitated into some excitement. We can’t overstate our level of gratitude and express how amazing that (donation) is. A million dollar donation doesn’t come in every day.”

The unexpected support from Iron Horse provided a welcome boost as the school board and project managers strive to keep the redevelopment venture from ballooning in cost.

Despite scaling back aspects since breaking ground in late February, the overall project is expected to cost $267,000 more than originally planned following the approval of the final construction bid package.

At their meeting on July 9, board trustees authorized the final package of costs for the remainder of construction. The package covers the largest segment of work and the final two phases, involving site preparation and constructing new wings of classrooms and other facilities onto the existing high school.

The original estimate for the second phase was $10.44 million. The bid that surfaced and was awarded was $10.51 million.

“The accepted bids did put us over by a little bit,” said Bayard Dominick of Steeplechase Development Advisors, the district’s consultant on the high school project.

Dominick said the district would seek ways to cover the extra costs, including available tax increment finance funds.

With the ambitious reconstruction project, Whitefish High is trying to reinvent itself amid the changing landscape of education in the 21st century.

It’s also an attempt to turn around dipping enrollment at the high school. Since 2003, enrollment has fallen 29 percent at Whitefish. A factor that is regularly cited in the dwindling student body is the emergence of Kalispell’s modern Glacier High School.

In March 2012, voters approved $14 million in general obligation bonds to finance the rebuilding of Whitefish High. A variety of sources, including the city’s tax increment finance funds, which is expected to contribute $2.5 million, are covering the remaining $5 million not covered by the school bond.

Gov. Steve Bullock listed his goals for educators in Montana at last week’s meeting of the Board of Education, including increased use of technology in classrooms and continued focus on improving graduation rates.

"From my perspective, public education is one of the great equalizers in our society," Bullock said.

High school students should have more opportunities to receive college credit for advanced classes, Bullock said, and teacher evaluations should be improved.

When completed, Whitefish High will be able to accommodate more than 600 students, according to developers.

“I’m really excited about it. I’m proud of where we are,” Dominick said. “The team has really worked hard together to get us as close to that budget as possible. We are going to deliver a really amazing school.”

To follow updates of the Whitefish High building project, visit its Facebook page or click here.
 
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