School talks start next week

Soda Creek Elementary will be 'first decision to be made'

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The Steamboat Springs School District has scheduled two forums to gather input on the future of Soda Creek Elementary School.

The eight forums will be held in four sessions each day April 18 and May 11. Superintendent Donna Howell said she hopes offering the forums at a variety of times will allow people to attend at least one of the events, which are for residents to discuss options for renovating or rebuilding the aging Soda Creek facility.

At an April 3 meeting of the Steamboat Springs School Board, district facilities Direc--tor Rick Denney presented cost estimates for the four options on the table for Soda Creek:constructing a new school on the Soda Creek site for $18.2 million; extensively renovating the school for $12 million; tearing down Soda Creek and building a new school on a 9.2-acre site near Whistler Road and Meadow Lane for $16.9 million; or doing nothing, at no cost to the district.

District officials planned 13 community forums to discuss facility planning in the fall but canceled some because of poor attendance.

This time around, Howell said, recent progress in facility planning should increase turnout. "I believe attendance will be better because we have figures and something for people to respond to," she said.

Of the four options, Howell said renovating or doing nothing are the least feasible.

"I think we would be remiss if we just ignored it -- and having an old, renovated building doesn't make a lot of sense," she said. "But the reality is, we don't have a choice if we don't get support from the community."

A bond issue likely will need to be put before voters to fund a new school or renovations. Last month, the School Board approved a $1.2 million addition to Steamboat Springs Middle School -- paid for by the city's Education Fund Board -- meaning a bond issue would focus only on Soda Creek and renovations at Strawberry Park Elementary School.

A decision about Soda Creek has to come before Strawberry Park, Howell said, because if a new school is built, Soda Creek students will need to attend school at a temporary site such as the George P. Sauer Human Services Center on Seventh Street or the Strawberry Park campus.

The district owns a 35-acre plot of land in west Steamboat, but Howell said that site is being saved for a possible third elementary school.

"Right now, (the demographic situation) doesn't warrant looking out there," Howell said.

A 2005 demographic analysis showed that 267 students in kindergarten through high school live in southeast Steamboat; 482 students live in the Mount Werner and Fish Creek Falls areas; 356 students live in Old Town; 78 students live just west of Old Town; and 125 students live in west Steamboat neighborhoods, including Steamboat II and Heritage Park.

A 2005 facilities analysis showed Soda Creek has several structural problems, including support columns that obstruct vision in classrooms, inadequate cooling and ventilation, low ceilings, traffic congestion, an inefficient and sprawling floor layout and overall small site size. The school was built more than 50 years ago on less than five acres.

It houses 392 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

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