Personal reflections on West Valley, Montana’s ‘most future-flexible school’

By: David Koel
26 October 2015

In September, West Valley, a rural K-8 school in Kalispell, MT, opened its doors for the 2015-16 school year having undergone a dramatic metamorphosis. CTA aided with bond passage for new and renovated space for the facilities, which had been added to piecemeal for a half-century. It now contains new entry commons, a second practice gym, a library, a music room, a kitchen, and 15 additional classrooms. Every new space is highly adaptable to a variety of uses, and close attention paid to the budget along the way meant the project could include measures above and beyond the original scope without calling for additional funds. This is now a school of the future, to be sure.

CTA_post_WestValleySchool_NickSalmon_CalKetchum“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Cal Ketchum, Superintendent of West Valley School District, is on record as saying. Alongside Ketchum, CTA educational facility designer Nick Salmon was at the Montana Conference of Educational Leadership earlier this month delivering a presentation entitled “How West Valley Elementary School Became the Most Future-Flexible School in Montana.”

I was in a pretty unique situation going into this project, wearing several different hats. I was not only the design leader, but a school district taxpayer to boot; I was also the father of twin daughters, who were set to be among the first to inherit this new middle school wing. Designing it locally, almost literally in my backyard, meant if I screwed something up, CTA’s local reputation, as well as mine in this school district, would be at stake. Plus, I was going to have to endure the project many years longer than most architects ever do (I have a 2-year-old, so I’ll be wandering these halls for many, many, MANY years to come).

I think this perspective might have helped to drive the project into maintaining an overall simplicity and practicality. But it also allowed carefully-placed doses of zing, ingenuity, and fanfare, brought about by our incredible CTA team. My hope is for me and my kids to witness the graceful aging of this interesting and spirited building — and hopefully not from the repeated vantage point of the principal’s office.

“By all measures, this is one of the most successful projects I’ve ever been a part of and I give much of that credit to our fantastic client. West Valley School District put faith in CTA and entrusted us to deliver a compelling, progressive, affordable, and durable design within a fixed timeline. We’re limitless when clients like them empower this team.”

See more photos and read the full story in the West Valley School District project capsule on our Education page.

Photos by Heidi A. Long/Longviews Studios. West Valley School interior design by CTA’s Catherine Schwarz.

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