There seems to be little doubt that Muldown Elementary School is at a crossroads.
The 50-year-old school building is facing major issues — threat of a failing heating system at the end of its life, a roof unable to handle the snowload and crowded hallways from growing enrollment.
When the elementary school opened its doors in 1967 it was seen as “radical” in its design to assist with innovative learning styles as envisioned by then-Superintendent Lloyd Muldown. The school went through major renovations in 1992.
Though Whitefish School District has a dedicated maintenance staff — in particular District Maintenance Director Chad Smith who gets to work at 4:30 a.m. — who has kept the building’s roof cleared of snow and done its best to keep the heat working, it seems as though the infrastructure challenges are mounting.
The threat of a failure of the heating system during the winter could cause the school to freeze inside-out, the district notes, leaving little choice but to cancel school or ask students to wear hats and mittens in the classroom.
There’s also the issue of overcrowding. Muldown administrators have had to make last-minute changes to existing and makeshift classrooms to accommodate extra students. Demographic projections show that Muldown’s student count could grow beyond the 710 currently enrolled this fall.
Through we know that the teachers and staff do their best every day to provide a good environment for the students, it begs the question — when do all the building’s issues begin to impact a quality education?
The Whitefish School Board has said it’s time for a fix and after nearly two years of deliberation alongside the community-driven Project Muldown Task Force they’ve decided the best course of action is to construct an entirely new $26.5 million elementary school. The district eliminated two other options — a bare necessities repair of the current school at $14.4 million, and an expansion and upgrade of the current school at $24.2 million.
Securing funding for the new school requires voter approval of a $26.5 million levy. If passed, property taxes would increase about $130 annually for a home with a taxable value of about $240,000, according to the school district.
It’s clear there needs to be a solution for ensuring that Whitefish’s elementary students have a safe place to learn in the coming years, and now the decision rests with the voters. Ballots should be arriving in the mail this week and need to be returned to the district office by Oct. 3.
It seems it’s time, Whitefish, to cast your ballots and decide the future of Muldown Elementary.