Kalispell Unified School District plans to purchase land for new schools


KALISPELL, Mont. - The Kalispell Unified School District just approved a $56 million budget for the 2014-2015 school year. Half of that will go towards the elementary schools and the other half for the high schools.

This year's budget is larger than last year's. There was about a 5-percent increase for the elementary schools and about a 9-percent increase for the high schools. The increase is because of increased enrollment.

In the wake of passing that budget, the school district just signed an agreement to purchase land to build new schools.

It's about 25 acres of land with a $385,000 price point. The land is located south of downtown Kalispell, along Airport Road.

The land the school district originally wanted to purchase was sold before they were able to buy it. However, signed an agreement to purchase the adjacent property and will make a trade.

They want the other piece of land because it is flat and more reasonable to build infrastructure on. It's also a lot closer to town and closer to neighborhoods.

School officials say they needed the new land.

"We have a real solid overcrowding issue," said Kalispell Public School District Superintendent Mark Flatau.

Flatau says the increase in enrollment over the past 10 years has been huge.

Last year, voters approved a bond to build additional classroom space in the elementary schools, but apparently that wasn't enough.

Now, with the purchase of this land, a new middle school or elementary school can be built -- or even both.

"We've already looked at that size of piece of property and you actually have room, if you strategically place the facilities at either end, you would have room for two school sites," Flatau said.

Several of the elementary schools say they notice the overcrowding issue and say they need more schools. Residents agree.

"I just noticed that with Elrod their classrooms are kind of full," said Wayne Hall, a Kalispell resident.

Other people think this land is the solution.

"I think it's a great idea. You know, anytime you can have the teacher-to-student ratio lower, they're going to get more attention and they'll have targeted instruction for what the kids need," said Brianne Wilson, a school educator.

Kalispell residents have voiced concerns about raising taxes to build new schools, but the superintendent said that won't be the case.

"No taxes needed. The money is in the bank," said Flatau.

The district has been allocating and saving money from the school budget for the $385,000 land purchase.

"All we need is permission to purchase the property, from the voters," Flatau said.

In order to move forward with the purchase, voters will have to approve it. It will be placed on the November ballot and if approved, the district can begin preliminary planning for what type of school should be built.