Columbia Falls Schools needs a new building and renovation. Are we being wise with this community’s money? Why do we need a new building? What about other resources? Are my kids safe at school especially with recent school shootings? What are the pros and cons? As an everyman in the Columbia Falls community, I sought answers this last year...
Over monthly meetings for the last year, community leaders discussed every possible option to address the Glacier Gateway and Ruder Elementary concerns.
The need for a new Glacier Gateway is severe. These are some of the concerns:
• 1940, 1950s building practices (types of paint, asbestos lined plumbing, plaster walls).
• Constant leaking from the roof to the basement. Water pipes have collapsed. The issue under the building is unsafe for workers with asbestos lined pipes. The district has carefully addressed this issue for safety but it still is a potential problem and currently affects maintenance staff that have to work there. Students remain safe.
• Poor air conditions for breathing, and venting breathable air. Try and stay healthy and learn in those conditions. Could this change the behavior of 500 students in the building? It does.
• Safety — an intruder would have immediate access to all classrooms once inside (a concern for all four district buildings especially due to the string of shootings in public places). At recess, anyone has access to the playground with the current design.
Ruder Elementary is in better shape but is out of space.
Kindergarten does not use gym or music room but has a gym/music class in an entryway (no more classroom space).
Future classes means less gym time for 1st - 5th grade classes.
Class sizes are at max levels. And we expect growth in the next few years! Look at all the housing being built around Columbia Falls. Projections look at steady growth in the next 10 years. Students have had to leave Ruder and go to Glacier Gateway because of class size problems, upsetting many parents. 3rd grade is currently at a class size of 27 (maximum state cap is 28).
• Safety — an intruder would have immediate access to all classrooms once inside (a concern for all four district buildings).
I was immediately impressed from the beginning of our leadership in Columbia Falls. The superintendent and school board have been wise in decision making and cautious of the cost burden for the community. Building a new Glacier Gateway Elementary and renovating Ruder Elementary is not a want, it is a need for the district. So what are the pros and cons of a building bond in Columbia Falls?
Safe, secure entrances to both elementary schools (junior high and high school are also looking at small remodeling changes for secure entrances)
Rectify facilities problems deeply-rooted in the old Glacier Gateway building
Readiness for growth in Columbia Falls, meet current needs
Since Junior High bond will be finished soon, low impact on homeowner’s taxes.
Small impact on homeowners taxes (only $15-20 a month for my home)
Cost, especially those on a fixed income
Loss of old Glacier Gateway
So how does this bond affect me and my family? I own a house ($214,000 three years ago). I am a father, summer painter, church member, soccer coach, basketball coach, teacher, tutor, PTO Vice President, as well as other things. I am a Columbia Falls community member. I am heavily invested in the community:
Preiss Family reasons to vote for the bond:
• As a community member, a newer school means healthier, happier, and better behaved students that will be my neighbors in the next 10-20 years.
• As a father, my kids will have a new level of safety from a school intruder.
• As a teacher, I would have smaller class sizes, more gym classes, and space to grow.
• As a coach, my basketball players slipped and fell on the court because of leaks in the “newer” gym this winter. We had to avoid sections of the court as we played around buckets. Safety for students in the building.
• As a painter for the district, I will not have to struggle painting over the problems in Glacier Gateways old plaster walls and cover up the constant problems.
Glacier Gateway and Ruder Elementary problems will have to be addressed now or later. Things are bad enough now.
Preiss Family reasons to not vote for the bond:
• Cost of taxes on our $210,000 house (just valued as much higher). We just added $15 a month because of increased tax value. If the bond passes, I will pay an additional $15-20 a month.
• Family of five living on one teacher’s salary and a tight budget.
Everything that I do is for kids first. If I have to invest $15-20 a month for 1,000 kids in our community to have what they need, I am all in. Please vote to fix the needs at Glacier Gateway and Ruder.
Josh Preiss is a 4th grade teacher, summer painter, former principal, and involved community member in Columbia Falls.