Our View: Stagecoach school site would pay off

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South Routt School District officials are taking the right step by pushing to identify a new elementary school site in the Stagecoach area.

Some might question the wisdom of such a move. After all, in the past two years, South Routt has eliminated positions and merged its high school and middle school because of declining enrollment.

But anyone familiar with development patterns in Routt County knows that the enrollment trends in Soroco aren't likely to continue. In fact, Superintendent Steve Jones estimates the district will see an enrollment increase of 15 to 20 students this year, the first increase in six years.

With subdivisions in the West of Steamboat Area Plan nearly built out and no new subdivisions planned, there is little opportunity for growth within the boundaries of the Steamboat Springs School District. That leaves Hayden to the west and Stagecoach to the south as the areas primed for development of moderately priced housing for working class families.

Routt County Planner Mary Alice Page-Allen has provided the South Routt School Board with data showing that up to 180 homes could be built in Stagecoach in the next three years. Already, developer Bryan Stahl has plans for the Neighborhood at Young's Peak, which would include 147 housing units on 93 acres.

County regulations require a minimum of 5 percent of gross land in a given subdivision to be dedicated to one or more essential public purposes, including fire stations and schools. The county can accept payments in lieu of land if property for a public purpose isn't feasible or necessary.

Stahl has indicated a willingness to set aside part of his development for a school site, understanding that a school can help the success of his development. All that's needed is for Stahl and the school district to agree on the specific site and for Routt County commissioners to sign off on the plan. We would urge them to do so.

Estimates are that as many as 150 new school students could be living in the Stagecoach area in the next few years. That would be a jump of 36 percent in a school district that has about 415 students. Such an enrollment increase could provide the South Routt district with a shot in the arm, providing the district with more funding and the opportunity to broaden its programs and offerings.

But with Colorado's open enrollment policies, many of those new students could wind up in the Steamboat Springs School District, which is only 15 miles from Stagecoach. "I think that definitely could happen, and that's why I have been pretty active with the board to get out in front of this," Jones said. "If we have a school site, people are going to look at our district and not at Steamboat."

That's a smart move that will pay off, not only for South Routt but for education in Routt County overall. The county is best served when all of its school districts have healthy enrollments and adequate funding to educate students equally well.

South Routt has managed to maintain strong test scores despite dwindling resources in recent years. It's good to see the district acting now to identify future growth opportunities rather than waiting to react when it may be too late.

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