West Valley School eyes future expansion

Hilary Matheson, Daily Inter Lake, Kalispell, Mont.
·3 min read

Feb. 26—West Valley School District has started the facility planning process as it experiences continued enrollment growth.

"We are growing by leaps and bounds," West Valley Superintendent Cal Ketchum said.

He anticipates the area will continue to attract families as housing developments continue to be built in that area.

"What is considered affordable housing is going up and we are going to see a lot of young families moving in," he said.

The district has mailed postcards to residents seeking information on how many children, who are not yet of age to attend school, households expect to enroll in West Valley in the coming years in efforts to gauge where enrollment might be.

From 2015 — when the school opened a new middle school addition — to now, the district gained about 152 students.

"We're already out of room again, essentially," he said.

Despite many public school districts experiencing enrollment declines due to the COVID-19 pandemic with families opting to home school, West Valley has added a small number of students since the last official enrollment count in 2020.

"We were going to start the process last spring, but with COVID, we waited," Ketchum said.

On Tuesday, the West Valley School Board selected Cushing Terrell to provide pre-bond architectural planning services. Some of these services include preliminary space planning and design, providing cost estimates and a cost-benefit analysis, facilitating meetings and gathering input. Cushing Terrell, formerly CTA Architects, worked with the district on the middle school addition.

The district is looking for interested community members, staff and students to join a steering committee. Community members interested in being on the steering committee may fill out a form at www.westvalleyschool.com.

PLANNERS ALSO will look at locations where it would be feasible to build a future school, including the property where the K-8 school is located, at 2290 Farm to Market Road. West Valley School is situated on roughly 20 acres, Ketchum said.

"We don't even know if we have the capability to add a property on this land," he said.

A potential concern is whether or not the land could handle additional infrastructure of another building, specifically the drain field, septic tank, water supply and traffic/parking.

In the meantime, the district continues to keep an eye on what land may be available elsewhere.

The amount of land needed for a school depends on what grade levels will be housed there. Planners will look at a variety of scenarios, which could include the potential for creating a high school district. West Valley students attend Glacier High School, located 4 miles away. Ketchum said establishing a high school district would be a big endeavor. Creating a high school district would require enrollment to surpass 1,000 students and voter approval. Current enrollment stands at 728 kindergarten through eighth-grade students.

The middle school addition, which was built to ease overcrowding, was the last major construction project in the district. The expansion and building remodel was funded through a 20-year $6.8 million bond issue voters approved in 2013.

"These will all be decisions we have to make in the steering committee," Ketchum said. "If we don't do anything we will be looking at an overcrowded school in the next couple of years."

Ketchum anticipates a contract with Cushing Terrell will be drawn up by next week.

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