Bigfork High School open house event showcases renovation, expansion

By: CTA In The News
21 December 2017


The Bigfork High School $14 million addition and renovation was completed ahead of schedule and under budget. Construction started in May 2016 and was anticipated to be completed by January, but was finished a week before Thanksgiving with approximately $90,000 remaining in a contingency fund.

“It’s pretty remarkable to come in and be ahead of schedule and under budget — and capture what we wanted to accomplish,” Bigfork Superintendent Matt Jensen said. This achievement took an “extremely good team,” said project superintendent Mark Casalegno of Hammerquist Casalegno, who himself is a Bigfork High School graduate. In addition to Hammerquist and school district staff, the team included CTA Architects Engineers.

It has been several decades since the high school has undergone major construction. The construction and renovation project added about 36,000 square feet to the high school’s footprint. The project included eight new classrooms, four locker rooms, a community room, serving kitchen, bus barn, courtyard, gym expansion and library relocation to the first floor, among other renovations to the existing building and vocational education center. Facilities were brought up to code with fire and safety regulations and into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Bigfork High School Principal Alan Robbins said the completed project went beyond his expectations. There is a perceptible difference in the school environment since the transformation he said. The building is more conducive to modern learning and group work while serving as an inviting place where students want to be. “Kids are really using and enjoying the space,” Robbins said.

Robbins and Jensen thanked students for their patience during construction and noted the pride they have displayed through care and upkeep of the facility. On the night of Dec. 5, the high school was full of sports fans at a basketball game and community members taking student-led tours of the renovated building.

Crossing over from the new addition to the renovated existing building is virtually seamless. “Before” photos are posted around the building to help people see what changes were made. In addition to a regular door, some classrooms also have sliding glass doors. The sliding glass doors allow teachers to extend the classroom out into the hallway, or allow students to work outside the classroom while remaining visible to teachers. The furniture choices also offer flexibility in how seating is arranged.

One of the many highlights of the project are two science labs — one outfitted for physics, chemistry and anatomy, the other for biology, astronomy and forensics. The two rooms share a fume hood in their adjoining wall. Previously students had to work in an inadequately-sized lab separate from their classroom. A central feature of the building is the library, which was moved from the second floor to the first. A roll-up wall and movable shelving are just more examples where design and function meet in providing schools with flexibility in how spaces are used.

Bigfork residents Nancy and Rick Trembath were quite impressed after touring the building. “It’s so welcoming,” Nancy said. She said it was great to see the results of the community’s investment in its youth. “We’re just delighted the community went for the bond to support our young people,” she said.

Above photos from Bigfork High School’s open house by Casey Kreider, Daily Inter Lake.


The CTA team partnered closely with Bigfork School District and community members through successful pre-bond planning and bond promotion, design, and construction administration. The building itself was both durable and resilient with structural components and masonry that had stood for 50 years and deserved to live at least that much longer again. Of the existing 48,500 sq. ft. high school, 7,000 sq. ft. was selectively demolished. The remaining 41,500 sq. ft. was abated, remodeled, and expanded by another 36,000 sq. ft. For the first time in over 60 years of remodels and additions, every door hardware set, wall and floor finish, glazing system, and roof is of the same type, vintage, and style.

The opportunity the district had before them included maintaining a unified campus where their entire district resided on a single site with a rare adjacency to the largest natural body of fresh water west of the Mississippi River. The effort resulted in increased capacity while preserving open space that provides for outdoor learning with expansive views of Flathead Lake. Safety and security were also paramount. A number of “front” doors were simplified to one, and relocation of the administration adjacent to an enlarged commons not only serves as the unifying heart of the building’s plan, but provides for visibility and access control.

The commons creates a place to gather after events and to eat lunch, while also organizing the new library, choir and band complex, expanded gymnasium and weight training facility, and the classroom core. New programming also positioned around the commons includes the community room, student store, an a la carte area that is convertible into concessions, a new warming kitchen and serving area, and a guidance counselor suite.

Exemplifying the balance of form and function, the Bigfork High School remodel and expansion was driven by the opportunities and unique characteristics of the existing site, building, and systems. Proper planning, coordination between design and construction, scheduling, budgeting, and choreography of the trades allowed for the school to remain operational with minimal disruption to teaching and learning.


“After not being involved with CTA’s pre-bond planning for Bigfork School District, when I first saw the approved conceptual design, I questioned if this project was even feasible in an occupied building. What an amazing transformation with so many nuances and idiosyncrasies to plan, solve, budget for, and execute. Personally, I’ve never designed with a construction schedule of the degree this project team had to.

Hats off to the team members from CTA and Hammerquist Casalegno for their tireless problem-solving, collaboration, creativity, and teamwork — and  even boldness at times —  to execute a vision that had so many technical hurdles. For two years, every weekly meeting started with phasing and transitioned into topics of life safety and how the district staff and students would cohabitate with their construction counterparts. I couldn’t be more proud of the team and the outcome.”

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