GREAT FALLS – On Monday, a major parking lot at Great Falls High School (GFH) will be closed to students and faculty for the remainder of the year to allow for the next phase of construction — resulting in an estimated loss of 167 parking spaces.
The passage of a $99 million district-wide bond levy in 2016 impetized a $37 million project between Great Falls Public Schools (GFPS), Sletten Construction and NE45 Architecture. A primary objective of that venture remains to connect GFH’s historic main campus with the R. W. “Bill” Swarthout Fieldhouse.
Building commenced over the summer for a state-of-the-art addition informally known as “the Hub,” along with several other renovations, including a new heating and ventilation system. Construction has now entered into what officials are calling “Phase One,” which will result in some logistical challenges for students, staff and residents within the vicinity.
The “senior” lot — as it’s known throughout the community — will be inaccessible come Monday morning. According to a statement released by Sletten Construction on April 4, prohibiting entrance to the lot will allow workers “to install utilities, regrade [and] pave.”
Great Falls High School Associate Principal Paul Culbertson elaborated, telling MTN, “There are several utilities that have to come through the senior parking lot, including gas and electrical. The parking lot is on bedrock, and it is not easy to just create a small trench, so we have to close the whole lot.”
Regarding the timing of the closure (given the approach of the end of the school year), Culbertson said, “We want the parking lots to be ready in August for the start of next year. All of the parking lots will be done only if we start now.”
To accommodate for the lost space, school officials have reallocated other areas to fit vehicles.
“We have opened up a temporary parking lot in the [northeast] corner of GFH,” Culbertson said. “It has about 30 spots for faculty parking. We have also opened up the Campfire lot for about [six] temporary parking spots.”
With respect to the availability of student parking, Culbertson said the “tennis court parking lot is now available,” referring to what NE45 Architecture identifies as Lot G: a tract of pavement estimated to hold 31 vehicles. “There are spaces that are available in the neighborhood, but they will require a longer walk to GFH,” Culbertson said.
He recommends students plan on arriving to school “15 minutes earlier,” predicting that “as we settle into where we will be parking, […] less time will be needed.”
Due to past concerns with student infringement upon residential parking, certain sidewalks are restricted to residents only. Denoted with purple curbs, these areas will not change given the fresh circumstances. Parking alongside them will continue to present the possibility of a citation.
While such major change has jolted both students and faculty, those affected are looking not only to administration for guidance, but also to young leaders. Jennie Gresham, student body president, is urging her peers to exhibit patience with — and respect for — the construction process.
“From personal experience,” Gresham told MTN, “I can gaurantee that any spots [other students] would like is open at 7 a.m.!”
“The earlier students get to school, the better,” she added. “As seniors, the different lots are available for us to use, along with the tennis court parking lot. Street parking will also be available, but we ask that students make good choices and stay out of sections marked with yellow or purple.”
Gresham, through her leadership, has played an extensive role in preserving morale at GFH this year, spearheading the 2019 school-wide motto: “Building Respect.”
“We also request that students maintain positive attitudes throughout this process, as the closing of the lot is strictly to preserve student safety,” Gresham said.
Areal residents, via what Culbertson described as a “flier […] hand-delivered to every house in the neighborhood,” were notified this past week of the closure of the senior parking lot. “GFHS drivers are being encouraged to carpool,” the letter said, “and are being reminded, daily, to practice safe driving habits.”
Construction of the hub will continue throughout the summer until the beginning of the next school year, after which renovations and upgrades will run into 2020. Photo and video updates on construction progress will still be available on the school’s website.
“We thank you for your patience as we work through the construction process,” the statement read.