C-Falls residents face big decisions about schools

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The Columbia Falls School District is the latest local district to delve into the process of looking at facility needs down the road, due to aging school infrastructure, building security and, during some years, classroom overcrowding.

A long-range planning committee recently pored over six scenarios for upgrading Glacier Gateway and Ruder elementary schools, narrowing the scope to potential options: A $19 million addition and renovation of Glacier Gateway and an upgrade to Ruder that would cost anywhere from $8 million to $12.8 million.

Several other Flathead County school districts already have wrestled with this same overriding issue, namely, accommodating a growing number of students in outdated buildings.

In a report about local schools that was part of the Daily Inter Lake’s “Changing Times” series published in late December, we noted that Flathead County voters have supported roughly $134.6 million in bond issues for school building projects over the past decade. Over the last 10 years our public schools have absorbed more than 1,200 additional students, for a total public school enrollment of about 14,500 students.

That’s pretty impressive support for local schools. But asking taxpayers to support not only building projects but also levy requests for operational support for schools has been a hard sell for many school districts.

Now it’s Columbia Falls’ turn to decide if its taxpayers will support these proposed school upgrades. Columbia Falls voters could see a bond issue as early as September. And there’s still time to learn more about the proposals. A community forum is planned at 6 p.m. Feb. 13 at the Columbia Falls Junior High School.

There’s another big project brewing in Columbia Falls that its citizens need to know about. The Boys & Girls Club of Glacier Country wants make a deal with the Columbia Falls School District to donate property for a $5.5 million club facility next to Ruder Elementary School’s gym. It’s an ambitious proposal, but proponents point out a new Girls & Boys Club could fit in nicely with the planned Ruder expansion.

Big decisions are coming down the pike for Columbia Falls. We urge residents to stay tuned.

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