Proposed Uses for the School
As mentioned, the vision is to renovate, improve, and repurpose the Paradise school to meet three key needs: (1) a community center; (2) a visitors’center; and (3) an arts center.
These changes and uses can be accomplished while retaining the original integrity of the school. These uses would serve the community, county, state, and be compatible and complementary in the space. In addition to assessing community needs and matching them with the potential of a renovated school building and grounds, citizens are also focused on the economic aspects of this project. Paradise has lost virtually every type of business that at one time operated in the town. Currently, two churches and the American Legion are the only organizations in the town. A renovated, improved, and repurposed school offers the possibility for attracting tourists, artists, and citizens to a viable hub of activity. The planned uses for the renovated school offer several opportunities for initiating private businesses.
The agreed upon primary uses (a community center, a visitor center, and an arts center) each has the potential for funding through a variety of private, local, state, and national sources.
The community of Paradise, once the hub for the railroad in Sanders County and filled with people and businesses, is now a small town with very limited resources. Its proximity to other towns and its location on Highway 200 (which runs the length of the county) provide the potential for hosting a variety of community and countywide gatherings and events.
The community and the county need space that is dedicated and equipped for community meetings, ranging from small civic/volunteer groups to community-wide gatherings. There are currently no indoor spaces in the county (other than the county fairgrounds in Plains) dedicated as public meeting space. Meetings and larger gatherings access space from churches, private businesses, banks, and other in-use schools in the county. Vir-tually none of the spaces currently used is set-up for or properly equipped for meetings. Because currently available space is multi-purpose, each meeting or event creates set-up and take down issues. Because no available space is properly equipped, there is a lack of access to technology. Because available space is not designed to meet the needs of the community, use is constricted (for example, limited types of tables and chairs prohibit certain activities, poor lighting and limited sound enhancement create an unfavorable environment).
The now-closed Paradise Elementary School, with some accessibility modifications, offers the perfect location for public and private meetings, reunions, and gatherings of many types. The building has both small and large meeting spaces and is virtually a centerpiece for the town of Paradise. Its location makes it easily accessible from many surrounding towns. The school offers enough space for community center uses alongside other proposed uses such as a visitor center and an arts center. The 3.5 acre parcel also is sufficient for a rural fire department facility, a playground, and over the longterm, an open air amphi-theater/veterans’ memorial.
Tourist traffic approaching northwest Montana from the east and the south, pass through the community of Paradise. Northwest Montana is well known for Glacier National Park, the Flathead Lake, and the National Bison Reserve. Lesser known attractions abound in this part of the state, including the Hiawatha Trail, Glacial Lake Missoula, the Noxon Reservoir, the Ross Creek Cedars, National Forest Lands, hiking and equine trials, and more.
Glacier National Park, the premier tourist attraction in north-western Montana, drew 2.2 million people in 2013 (NPS). Al-most 20% of those visitors (440,000) are estimated to come from northwestern states (CA, WA, WA, OR, NV & ID) (Univ. of Montana 2009). While difficult to determine how these people travel to the park, many would likely drive the most direct route to Glacier—through Paradise.
At Paradise, average daily traffic on HW 200 is almost 2100 vehicles—over 3/4 million per year (MT Dept of Transportation 2012).
Currently, there is only limited and scattered tourist information available along the corridors tourists follow into the area. In an economically stressed part of the state, tourism is a viable in-vestment for the town, the county, and the state.
The now-closed Paradise Elementary School, with some accessibility modifications, offers a perfect location to provide in-formation on the attractions in northwest Montana and to high-light the history of the area (the town, the school, the railroad and its influence on the region, etc.).
A visitor center would offer tourists written information, videos of various locations, and assistance by trained personnel. The school offers enough space for visitor center uses alongside other proposed uses such as a community center and an arts center.
Sanders County is home to many, many artists, both visual and performing. Those artists have the potential to connect the rural population to the arts in a variety of ways. However, the area has no viable space dedicated to the arts or currently able to provide a hub of artistic activities.
Visual arts are voluntarily exhibited at the Clark Fork Valley Hospital and in some private businesses. Visual arts classes access space at in-use schools or rent space from various sources. None of these spaces is set up for visual arts classes (limited square footage, poor lighting, no equipment, etc.)
Performing arts access space designated for other uses, such as the Plains High School gym and a large meeting hall at the county fairgrounds. Any time these spaces are used, they must be converted for performing arts activity (temporary stage area, temporary lighting and sound, etc).
A vibrant arts program centered around the Paradise School also affords promising economic development for Sanders County. The 2000 US Census identified 11 Sanders County artists contributing $350,000 to the local economy. A doubling or tripling of the number of local artists, supported by the Paradise School program, would yield an important economic benefit to the local community.
Private Business Opportunities
In addition to the three primary uses proposed for the renovated school (community, visitor, and arts center), the space also offers opportunities fort private businesses, such as an art gallery, art supply store (it is a minimum of 75 miles to the nearest source of arts and crafts supplies), a cafe (for local residents and tourists), catering for public and private events, and more.
A Synergy of Uses
The now-closed Paradise Elementary School, with some accessibility modifications, offers a perfect location to provide information on the attractions in northwest Montana and to highlight the history of the area (the town, the school, the railroad and its influence on the region, etc.). A visitor center would offer tourists written information, videos of various locations, and assistance by trained personnel. The school offers enough space for visitor center uses alongside other proposed uses such as a community center, an arts center and private-sector opportunities.