After more than a decade of discussions and planning, North Valley Music School is finally eyeing a groundbreaking date for its new Whitefish facility that will give the local institution a chance to expand in order to better accommodate future needs and improve on its current offerings for music students in the Flathead Valley.
The music school is hoping to break ground in the spring of 2023 on its Smith Fields plot and as renderings continue to take shape, the school’s capital campaign to finance the project is marching onward, including during the ongoing Great Fish Community Challenge.
To date, the school has raised $2.8 million in pledges. The goal for the project is $5 million, with $4 million going toward the construction of the new building and $1 million for an endowment.
“We’re hoping to keep it right around $5 million, and included in that is a $1 million endowment to help pay for the expansion, the general operating costs of going from 2,700 square feet to 9,000 square feet,” Executive Director Deidre Corson said. In a best-case scenario, Corson said the new building could open in the fall of 2024.
The new facility will have up to 16 private studios, including four larger studios for baby grand pianos, percussion instruments, and recording space. There will also be a large group classroom, a multi-purpose room, staff offices and the building will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and have adequate parking.
Going all the way back to 2006, Corson says discussions began among the school’s board members about the eventual need to expand from its current location on Spokane Avenue. The current home of the school is, in fact, a home, which Corson said is around 100 years old. It’s been converted to allow for music instruction, sometimes in imperfect ways. Because of soundproofing issues, electric drum sets are used for drum lessons, and instrument storage can take some improvisation.
“Right now, we’re stuffing guitars and violins and ukuleles upstairs in closets where we can find room,” Corson said. “If somebody’s playing electric bass upstairs, you can hear it downstairs.”
As former executive director and board member, Cameron Blake put it, “For the first time in the history of the school we’ll be operating in a building specifically designed for music.”
Blake has been involved with the school for years, and her relationship with North Valley Music School is especially personal because three of her children learned music there. They’re now adults, and Blake described a kind of comfort their musical knowledge brings her.
“None of them are professional musicians, but I look as it gave them another language and something they’re good at and something oftentimes they go back to whether it’s doing guitar during college to de-stress or jumping into a fiddle group.”
To accommodate the demand for music lessons that has outstripped the capacity of that original building, the school has been renting out space at the First Presbyterian Church a little ways up the street. Right now, the school’s 20 faculty and staff see a combined 350 students a week, with most of them coming from Whitefish, but some also coming from Columbia Falls and Kalispell.
The valley’s growing population has contributed to the school finding itself flush with students, but Corson also said one trend she’s noticed is an increase in adult students, which she says might in part have something to do with how much music helped people through the pandemic.
“I think historically there’s always been an interest for parents getting their children involved in music lessons,” Corson said. “I think the change we’re seeing now is there are more adults realizing ‘I had a guitar for 20 years and I want to learn how to play it.’ ‘I used to take piano lessons and I want to get back into it.’ I think there is a renewed love for the arts, and the impact the arts have on human beings.”
In addition to the practical needs a building built for music will offer, Corson said she thinks the new facility will help improve the quality of programs and classes. The new building will have close to 20 indoor performing spaces, including formal studios built for teaching music.
For years there was a desire for the school to relocate somewhere in downtown Whitefish, but nothing ever came to fruition. In 2019, Corson said Don Bestwick, from the youth athletics nonprofit Project Whitefish Kids, approached Corson and a few others involved with the school, and proposed they use a piece of land at Smith Fields that was too small to fit a soccer field on. Corson said she loved the idea, and things progressed from there.
“It really truly has come to fruition after 16 years of several different locations, and several different renderings. And the time is right,” Corson said. “We’ve got people super excited about it. Our faculty and staff are beside themselves.”