School bond questions remain

Board wants public involved in decision-making process

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Soda Creek plans

Take a look at designs for rebuilding Soda Creek Elementary School.

— Time is quickly running out for the Steamboat Springs School Board to decide whether to move forward with a ballot issue to fund construction of a new elementary school.

The deadline to have ballot language finalized and turned in to City of Steamboat Springs officials is Sept. 8. The School Board's next scheduled meeting is Aug. 28.

Representatives from RBC Dain Rauscher of Denver attended last week's School Board study session to provide board members with sample ballot language, including ballot language from the district's $24.75 million bond issue that was approved by voters in 1997.

This time, school officials could seek as much as $30 million. The estimated cost to rebuild Soda Creek Elementary School is $19.5 million, and the estimated cost to remodel and expand Strawberry Park Elementary School is $8.3 million.

Dan O'Connell and Rudy Andras of RBC Dain Rauscher said a bond issue would have a minimal impact on taxpayers. They said if the bond issue was approved, it would cost taxpayers with a $450,000 home about $7 a month.

"Taxes won't be different than they have been," O'Connell said. "It's virtually the same tax bill even though home values have doubled."

The estimated median price of a single-family home in Steamboat is $450,000, which has nearly doubled since 1997, the year the last bond issue passed.

But whether the board will move forward with the bond issue remains unknown. The board could, in theory, draw up ballot language, turn it into the city by Sept. 8, and then withdraw the bond before ballots are printed.

The board also could seek a bond for the cost of construction at both elementary schools or just one school. Or, it could do nothing with either.

If the board opts to move forward with a bond issue, it will have to begin campaigning for its passage soon.

"You have to sell it to yourselves first," O'Connell told the board members last week.

Increased costs

All five board members, Superintendent Donna Howell, Soda Creek Principal Judy Harris and Strawberry Park Principal Mark MacHale attended Monday's meeting to discuss the plans, which had been revised since the July 31 meeting.

Operational costs are expected to increase by an estimated 9 percent districtwide because of the improved ventilation system that would be part of a new Soda Creek facility. The existing Soda Creek school lacks a ventilation system.

Strawberry Park also has heating and cooling issues that would be addressed if a bond issue passes this November.

"It's a $50,000 increase between buildings, just on utility costs," district Facilities Director Rick Denney said. "It is a rough projection. I verified it with the mechanical engineer. I based it on local utility rates based on today's utility rates at the high school, which is fully ventilated. If those rates go up, you can count on that number going up proportionally. We will not bypass these costs."

The site where a new Soda Creek is proposed remains downtown. A survey of community members indicated - by a 2-to-1 ratio - that they wanted the elementary school to stay in its current location instead of moving west of town or to a district-owned parcel off Whistler Road.

The downtown site limits the possibility of expansion, but the new plans would increase the number of classrooms and would add more than 20,000 square feet because the school would be two stories and would be slightly rotated from its current position.

"The restrictions for expansion is a reality of that piece of land, which is what the community says it wants," Harris said. "This is not the same building. The educational advantages for our kids are huge compared to the old building."

Input still wanted

Harris acknowledged that teachers and staff have had little to no input on the new plans.

She would like additional input, but she also said she doesn't want to lose the chance to build a new school if the board moves forward.

Board member Denise Connelly, a former Spanish teacher, said public input was crucial.

"I think we need to get a lot more input from teachers," she said.

Board members agreed that the public needs to be updated on plans and needs to be involved in asking questions and getting answers.

Connelly recommended holding additional facility forums, and another survey likely will be conducted before mid-October, Howell said.

Board member John DeVincentis also raised the issue of potential changes to the district's kindergarten program. South Routt, Hayden and Christian Heritage School offer all-day kindergarten. The Steamboat Springs School District does not.

The plans presented Monday did not address the kindergarten and potential preschool issues DeVincentis said he thinks are important. He is a supporter of all-day kindergarten and of having preschool in an elementary school.

"My biggest concern is we are committing ourselves to 25 years of having a kindergarten problem," DeVincentis said about the current construction plans. "This is showing a plan for half-time kindergarten for the next 25 to 30 years. I'm more concerned that, when we are done with this, are we already outdated? I can't support anything that, when it's finished, we are still behind."

Leland Reece, an architect with Christiansen, Reece and Partners, said he could revise the plans to address the board's needs and would have them done in time for the Aug. 28 meeting.

- To reach Melinda Mawdsley, call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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