C-Falls weighs in on elementary school options

February 21, 2019

The public last week weighed in on options for Columbia Falls elementary schools, with a contingent saying it’s a tough sell as long as Canyon Elementary School in Hungry Horse remains empty.

The district is considering options that would cost between 34 million to renovate Ruder and Glacier Gateway elementary schools and possibly selling Canyon Elementary, which hasn’t housed students for years.

The impact on taxpayers varies depending on the options. The current junior high bond has taxpayers paying 200,000. If passed by the voters, the 209.10, or an increase of 34 million option would cost a home assessed for 237.36 per year, or an increase of 165,000 for maintenance and repairs each year, the needs of the schools are far above what the levy could fund, he said.

While most in attendance supported the more expensive option of demolishing Glacier Gateway to build an entirely new facility there, Marion K. Foley of Martin City said taxpayers in the Canyon area would not be as supportive.

“There is a relatively new building with a gym with great access and aesthetics that is sitting empty in Hungry Horse. I don’t think you will get any support for this bond coming from people in the Canyon,” she said. “I have to make it really strong and clear to this group that the Canyon is not going to support something if there isn’t a good discussion of how it is inclusive of them. There are a lot of property owners in the Canyon and you need those property owners’ votes to pass a bond.”

The district is still considering what to do with the Canyon facility, parts of which are currently being rented by the Flathead City-County Health Department as a community health clinic.

“We’ve been talking with the county health department and we would love to see them purchase the building, in all honesty,” Bradshaw said. We have also had people saying we should turn it into a community center, but the school cannot afford to do that. I would love to see a Boys and Girls Club up there, but the decision of what to do with the building is up to the board,” Bradshaw said.

In a current online survey being conducted by the district on its website, 46 of those who have responded say they would not send their children to the Canyon school if it were to reopen, while 42 say they would.

The principals of both Columbia Falls elementary schools were given the chance to explain the needs of their two campuses, both listing a number of maintenance and space needs.

Krueger cited a number of space and security concerns at Ruder, including one kindergarten educator who is having to use an entranceway as a classroom because of limited space in the school. The class is taught at least four times a week in a space where no chairs or desks are allowed, because it would be a fire-code violation. Krueger also pointed out that state standards allow no more than 26 students per classroom in the fifth grade for the school to receive accreditation, but one future class could have more than 30 if more space is not found.

Anello said matters are worse at Glacier Gateway, where a non-functional heating, ventilation and air-conditioning unit leaves the students breathing stale, uncirculated air in rooms where temperature control is tricky at best. While she said she loves teaching in the old building, a new facility would be quite welcome.

“Glacier Gateway is historic and I love it. But it’s not the building I love, it’s the kids and the process that happens between the walls,” she said. “Providing an environment where that process can be more effective, that’s what I am all about.”

Many in the crowd echoed her sentiments, with one parent going so far as to say that she didn’t care what facility her children were taught in, she cared about the hearts of the people who were teaching them.

Another issue the bond is meant to address is security at the entrances of both elementary schools and the junior high.

“The last thing I would want before I retire is for an active shooter to hit one of our buildings,” Bradshaw said. “When you have to deal with car wrecks, suicides and cancers every year, those are tough enough. As close-knit as this community is, I can’t imagine what it would be like if we had to deal with an active shooter. The bottom line is that new security doors at each of the schools could save lives.”