The timing may never be better, but that doesn't mean it will be easy. The Steamboat Springs School Board is contemplating asking voters this November to support a $30 million bond issue to rebuild Soda Creek Elementary School and renovate and expand Strawberry Park Elementary School. We see a significant number of reasons for putting the question to voters on Nov. 7, but by no means will bond approval be easy.
To meet an aggressive timetable set forth by its architectural consultants, the School Board would have to commit to investing $500,000 this fall on engineering work and construction drawings -- before the will of the voters is known.
Why not get the bonds approved this fall and push construction out another year until 2008? Wouldn't that erase the need to risk the half-million on preliminary work?
Perhaps, but it also runs the risk that rapidly escalating construction costs will significantly increase the cost of the projects.
Further incentive to go forward with the bond issue this fall is the likely possibility that voters in the city of Steamboat Springs (who are included in the larger school district boundaries) will be asked in November 2007 to approve roughly $20 million for a new recreation center.
Asking voters to fund both projects -- a new school and a community rec center -- in the same election cycle is a risky proposition.
But there's more. Voters also should expect to be asked in the next year or two to renew the city's half-cent sales tax for education. That tax, which is overseen by the Education Fund Board, generates about $2 million a year for school district programs and projects.
Lastly, school district officials have another good reason not to delay going to voters this fall for a new elementary school. The bond issue that allowed the construction of Strawberry Park Elementary School and Steamboat Springs Middle School in the early 1980s finally is being retired. Technically, dedicating property tax mills to a new bond issue will amount to a tax increase. But rolling new mills over into the new school projects allows the school district to tell voters they can build a new school at Soda Creek without noticing a big increase in their tax bill. It could be much more difficult to ask for the tax increase in a year or two, when taxpayers have seen the decrease in their bill.
Selling a new elementary school and the expansion of an existing elementary school won't be easy. Following are some of the things we believe the district needs to do to be successful with voters this fall:
Justify the numbers. Is $30 million really what it will take to give our children and educators what they need without being excessive?
Reassure the community that the unexpected resignation of School Board President Tom Miller-Freutel doesn't leave a leadership void at a critical time.
Continue the work already begun to build a strong community advocacy committee -- one that includes influential business leaders who are passionate about the need to improve the physical environment of our elementary schools.
While we believe Soda Creek needs to be replaced, we editorialized earlier this summer against building a new school at the current site. Now that the school district has gone through a public process and gathered ample evidence that the community wants the school to remain in Old Town, we're setting that position aside.
But if the district is to convince voters to spend $30 million on new and renovated facilities, the sales pitch must begin immediately.