Community values location

Parent at Soda Creek forum: Keep it here

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The Soda Creek community likes its elementary school where it is.

During several public for--ums Tuesday, parents and Old Town residents expressed strong sentiment for renovating or rebuilding Soda Creek Elementary School on its current site, rather than tearing down the school and building a new school on a site in southeast or west Steamboat Springs.

District officials invited the public Tuesday to contact them by phone or e-mail with thoughts about Soda Creek Elementary School. The next day of public forums is May 11.

Soda Creek Elementary School principal Judy Harris: 879-0652, jharris@sssd.k12....

Superintendent Donna Howell: 879-1530, dhowell@sssd.k12....

Facilities director Rick Denney: 871-3194, rdenney@sssd.k12....

"There's a good portion of our school community here in Old Town," Soda Creek teacher Cindy Gantick said at an afternoon forum, one of four held throughout the day. "What I'm hearing people say is that it's important to have schools close to where the families and kids are -- especially an elementary school."

Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Donna Howell hosted the forums along with district facilities director Rick Denney, to hear public comment about options for the Soda Creek school. A 2005 facilities analysis cited numerous problems with the building -- built more than 50 years ago -- including an inefficient layout, inadequate ventilation, traffic congestion, low ceilings and view-obstructing support columns in the middle of classrooms.

Howell said the Steamboat Springs School Board likely will decide in June whether to construct a new school on the current 4.5-acre Soda Creek site for $18.2 million, extensively renovate the school for $12 million, build a new school on a 9.2-acre site near Whistler Road and Meadow Lane for $16.9 million, build a school on a 35-acre site in west Steamboat for an undetermined cost or do minimal renovations to the current school.

Because extensive renovations or an entirely new school would require a bond measure placed before voters -- and a multi-year tax increase -- the school district is hosting the forums to gauge public sentiment.

On Tuesday, that sentiment was significantly in favor of keeping the school in Old Town.

"I feel very strongly about keeping a school downtown," said Lori Elliott, who lives a few blocks from the school and is the parent of a kindergartner and a second-grader at Soda Creek.

"That's the same sentiment we've heard earlier today," Howell said at an evening forum to a parent who said she values the community feeling fostered by a neighborhood elementary school.

Three of the four forums were sparsely attended, with less than 10 people at each. The 4 p.m. forum had a crowd of more than 20, mostly Soda Creek teachers and staff.

Reading teacher Ginny Osbourn said she deals every day with small classroom sizes that don't accommodate growing curriculum and space needs.

"The square footage in the classrooms is just not there to do all the things we're trying to do with the kids," Osbourn said, listing language programs, reading programs and computer space. "It becomes a challenge."

Howell and Denney presented possible "footprints" for new schools on the current site or near Whistler Road, a site that is a park and could present logistical challenges if the district chooses to build there.

Denney said a new road would need to be built connecting a Whistler school to U.S. Highway 40, possibly necessitating a traffic light on the highway, which could add at least $1 million to the estimated cost of building at Whistler, making that cost equal to rebuilding at Soda Creek.

"We're talking about pretty comparable costs at each location," Howell said.

Several forum attendees suggested keeping the existing school at Soda Creek while building a smaller, third elementary school that could be expanded in future years, at Whistler or in west Steamboat.

Denney said running a third elementary school would create operating costs for school staff and maintenance at a separate building, making it not financially feasible for the district.

Howell has said that the district is saving the west Steamboat site for a possible full-size, third elementary school in coming years, if projected growth in the area occurs.

"The area west of Steamboat is a huge question mark," Denney said.

Howell said the School Board should decide on a site in June and that a bond measure likely will be placed before voters in November 2007. If voters approve the measure, school construction or renovation could begin in 2008.

The next day of forums is May 11.

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