District looks at facility needs

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Razing and rebuilding Soda Creek Elementary School is one of the recommendations made in a comprehensive analysis of local school facilities.

A final facilities report was presented to the Steamboat Springs School Board on Monday by Leland Reece of Christiansen, Reece and Partners, the Colorado Springs-based firm that performed the analysis. The district requested the analysis so that it could get an objective opinion about its long-range facilities needs as they relate to maintenance, safety and educational programming, Superintendent Donna Howell said. The report also provides a road map for future spending decisions. The Education Fund Board paid for the analysis.

According to the report, most district facilities are in average to good condition, with two notable exceptions. Soda Creek Elementary School and the George P. Sauer Human Services Center are in "average to poor condition despite routine maintenance by the facilities department," according to the report.

The Human Services Center, on Seventh Street, is where the district houses its central administration offices. An alternative high school, Stepping Stones and the Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services also are housed in the sprawling complex, of which one-third is used by the district, one-third is used for non-district purposes and one-third isn't used at all. The district pays for upkeep and utility costs for the entire building.

The Human Services Center needs several major maintenance issues addressed, including new roofs for the various buildings in the complex, new windows and other measures to address code compliance issues. Several areas of the complex are unusable and uninhabitable, according to the report.

The building is inefficient and inflexible in terms of future modifications or uses, the report states. It recommends several options for the Human Services Center, including selling the entire property and relocating district offices to another site, demolishing all or part of the complex and rebuilding on the same site or demolishing part of the complex but keeping and restoring the historic high school.

Soda Creek Elementary School's problems are a result of its age and configuration, according to the report. The building lacks an adequate ventilation and cooling system, and its low ceilings will prevent the district from installing a modern roof-mounted ventilation and cooling system. One of the biggest complaints about the building is the support columns that were added to classrooms to address structural concerns.

"The columns in the classrooms reduce the flexibility and adaptability of the learning environment and were identified by many teachers and staff members as being detrimental," the report states.

Other issues at Soda Creek include traffic flow around the school, parking and the building's sprawling design, which discourages teacher teaming and interaction.

However, the school site is an ideal neighborhood location, and Reece said razing the existing building and constructing a new two-story school could address many issues, including parking, playground space, traffic flow and programmatic needs.

Longtime Steamboat resident Maybelle Chotvacs said she was outraged at the recommendation to tear down Soda Creek.

"That school is only 50 years old," Chotvacs told board members. "Are we going to build a new school every 50 years?"

Strawberry Park Elementary School and Steamboat Springs Middle School also have cooling and ventilation issues, Reece said. He also recommended building a permanent addition at Strawberry Park so the school can get rid of its modular classrooms. Steamboat Springs High School and the district's transportation center only have minor maintenance issues.

After Reece's presentation, School Board President Paula Stephenson said the board won't make decisions on any of the facilities study recommendations until it's able to gather community input on the district's facility needs. She doesn't expect any decisions to be made until next spring. Board members acknowledged that any major facility renovations or construction likely would necessitate the passage of a bond issue.

Board member Jeff Troeger said the district should spend money on its schools -- where education takes place -- before spending money on the Human Services Center.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 87 1-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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