Getting back to schools

Officials gathering data on multi-million dollar projects

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Soda Creek replacement school

• Demolition, construction and environmental: $15.5 million• Architectural and engineering services, printing: $1.3 million• Permits, fees, survey, testing, construction administration: $393,000• FF&E and technology: $780,000• Temporary classrooms, moving, storage: $924,000• Contingency: $600,000• Total: $19.5 million

Strawberry Park addition and remodel

• North classroom addition and kitchen arcade remodel: $4 million• Administration and entrance addition: $859,000• Mechanical and HVAC upgrades: $3 million• Architectural and engineering services, printing: $615,000• Permits, fees, survey, testing, construction administration: $137,000• FF&E and technology: $128,000• Temporary classrooms, moving, storage: $95,000• Contingency: $275,000• Total: $8.3 million

Proposed timeline

Soda Creek replacement school

Bond preparation: August to November 2006Design and engineering: August 2006 to March 2007Upgrade Human Services Center: November 2006 to March 2007Move students and decommission: spring break 2007Contractor review: February to April 2007Bid: February to April 2007Mobilize: March to May 2007Demolish: April to June 2007Construction: May 2007 to August 2008Move in: June 2008

Strawberry Park addition and remodel

Bond preparation: August to November 2006Design and engineering: November 2006 to May 2007Upgrade Human Services Center: November 2006 to March 2007Contractor review: May to June 2007Bid: June 2007Construction/addition: June 2007 to June 2008Move in: June 2008

The educational environment for the Steamboat Springs School District's youngest students appears to be a priority, but when and if voters are asked to fund major school construction projects remains up in the air.

From studies funded by the Education Fund Board's Capital Commission to telephone surveys conducted by Hill Research Consultants, results indicate that the community's two elementary schools are important issues.

"It goes back over two years now, when the (Steamboat Springs School Board) directed (Superintendent) Donna (Howell) to get info to guide a facilities master plan," district facilities director Rick Denney said Tuesday. "That was funded by the Capital Commission to identify short-term and long-term goals of the district. Some of the highest recommended issues ... have all dealt with Soda Creek Elementary and getting rid of modular (classrooms) at Strawberry Park."

On Monday, architects Brian Risley and Leland Reece of Christiansen, Reece & Partners of Colorado Springs were at the School Board's special study session. The focus of the two-hour meeting was the construction of a new Soda Creek school and the renovation of Strawberry Park.

For the project to move forward, the board will have to decide by the end of its Aug. 28 meeting whether to approve an estimated $30 million bond issue for November ballot.

The timing could be right for the district -- bonds for the 1980s construction of Strawberry Park Elementary School and Steamboat Springs Middle School are expiring, and it's likely voters will be asked to fund a $20 million community recreation center in 2007.

But the decision to move forward this year has not been made, School Board member Pat Gleason emphasized.

"One of the things we can choose to do is nothing," Gleason said. "There is nothing requiring us to do anything."

Soda Creek

Soda Creek, originally built in 1955, has numerous structural problems, according to a 2005 facilities analysis. Those problems include interior issues, such as a sprawling floor layout, low ceilings and support columns that obstruct vision in classrooms. Exterior issues include traffic congestion at the school, which is in Old Town.

"In my opinion, I would not recommend doing a renovation or addition to that facility," Denney said. "It has been added to several times. It is what you call a sprawling footprint. Things are disjointed."

The new school would be built on the existing site, but the school would be farther south and west, making space for 45 cars in a one-way parking lot for student dropoff. Bus traffic and a service entrance would be on the opposite side of the school.

"The new footprint will be much more compact and maximizes the space, separating buses from visitor parking," Risley said. "Traffic flow has been a major issue at this site. We feel this will be an improvement."

Initial drawings include 20 standard classrooms, two kindergarten classrooms and rooms for speech, art, music and computer classes. There also would be space in the two-story building for a gym, stage, media center, administrative offices and six flexible learning areas.

Soda Creek Principal Judy Harris toured Prairie Hills Elementary School in Thornton earlier this summer to see what a new Soda Creek might look like.

"The concept is exciting," Harris said. "I like the idea of having a media center be the heart of the school. ... I would just have to say it's been an amazing process to go and see the actual school that our school would be fashioned after."

Early estimates on the cost of a new Soda Creek facility are $19.5 million, which includes $600,000 in contingency costs and more than $900,000 to prepare an alternative site for students while the school is built.

Students would be relocated to the George P. Sauer Human Services Center on Seventh Street, current home to the district's central administrative offices. Soda Creek construction likely would begin during the final six weeks of the 2006-07 school year and continue through the 2007-08 school year.

"I sure want to make sure the kids are getting the same education that they would get at the old school (while being schooled at the temporary location)," board member Jeff Troeger said at Monday's meeting.

Denney said he looked into moving Soda Creek's students to Strawberry Park but that "there would be no way to put 400 or more students at that campus. That site is already so congested."

Strawberry Park

A possible November ballot issue also would address needs at Strawberry Park. Although the school, built in the early 1980s, does not have major structural concerns, it does lack space, school officials say. There currently are six modular classrooms erected outside of the school.

Inside the building, poor airflow is a concern to Strawberry Park administrators.

Both issues would be addressed with an estimated $8.3 million renovation and addition, including $275,000 set aside for contingency costs.

The remodel would add classrooms to the north side and update the kitchen and arcade of the existing school.

New administrative offices also would be built on the south side, allowing previous administrative offices to be used by teachers and staff.

"I think it's a great design," Strawberry Park Principal Mark MacHale said. "I'm equally excited about getting some good air flow into that building. If you are looking at first-class facilities, that's something that needs to be done. We have classrooms that get into the high 80s. That's not a real good learning environment."

One main design element in both buildings was multi-use spaces, such as flex spaces surrounded by classrooms.

"It brings both (elementary schools) up to a very high standard," Risley said.

A bond precedent

Steamboat voters approved a $24.75 million school bond issue in 1998 to remodel and expand Steamboat Springs High School and make improvements at other district facilities. In that election, 69 percent of voters supported the project.

The high school was increased from 95,750 square feet to 167,267 square feet.

"We wrapped the original building, and what we kept was the auditorium, the original gym and the south classroom wing parallel to (Spring Creek)," Denney said. "We gutted and wrapped the entire structure."

Denney said the 1998 projects were the largest group construction projects undertaken since he's been with the district. The high school cost $24 million.

Construction costs have risen since the late 1990s.

Costs for that project were minimized because final drawings were complete or close enough to complete to allow workers to begin construction without delay, Denney said.

"That really saved the district a lot of money," Denney said.

Final construction drawings for a new Soda Creek -- if the board decides to invest in the drawings before voters pass the potential bond issue -- are estimated to be $500,000.

A timeline presented by Risley and Reece on Monday shows construction beginning in June 2007 and ending in August 2008. Strawberry Park's students would not need to be relocated during construction.

The School Board members who attended Monday's study session questioned the need to invest $500,000 before November.

"Throwing money on the project and not knowing where it's going to go, politically, it is risky," Gleason said.

August questions

The board will reconvene Aug. 14 to further discuss the elementary schools. But before that meeting, board members made several requests of Denney and the architects.

Troeger said he was concerned about operational costs and that he wanted a breakdown of conventional energy costs and alternative energy costs.

"Operational costs will go up," Denney said, though he did not have an exact total.

Risley pointed to environmentally friendly efforts being planned at both schools, including using energy-efficient glass and using natural light at Soda Creek.

"We have looked into incorporating some green pieces into both projects," Risley said. "The new facility, it's much easier to design it to minimize utility costs. When you are adding on to an existing facility, there are some things we can do. Of course, we are talking about adding cooling and ventilation. That tends to drive costs up, but we intend to do that in a minimal way."

The piece of land on which Soda Creek sits has been identified as the site of choice for the new school, according to a Hill Research Consultants survey, community forums and economic feasibility.

Hill Research Consultants surveyed 303 voters and presented the findings in June.

The district wants to hold on to its land west of town, and building at Whistler Park, another parcel of land brought up in previous discussions, would create additional financial burdens, such as building a connector road between the school and U.S. Highway 40.

People interested in leaving Soda Creek where it is expressed the desire to have a "neighborhood" elementary school in the "Old Town core area," survey findings showed.

Board members have expressed a desire for project-specific information to be available to the public during the planning process. Another survey likely will be conducted in the following months.

"I'm concerned with getting too far out ahead of the public," Troeger said.

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