New Soda Creek questions emerge

Pros, cons discussed during school public forums Thursday

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New questions continue to arise about the future of Soda Creek Elementary School.

Steamboat Springs School District officials hosted four public forums Thursday to discuss options for the aging school, a facility identified by the district as needing extensive renovations or reconstruction. Residents at an afternoon forum discussed traffic issues, funding concerns, city growth and a timetable for possible construction of a new school, adding complexities to a question the Steamboat Springs School Board may answer next month.

Options for Soda Creek include constructing a new school on the current Old Town site, extensively renovating the school, building a school in east Steamboat near Whistler Road and Meadow Lane, building a school in west Steamboat or doing minimal renovations to the current school.

Renovations or construction of a new school would require a bond measure asking voters for a multi-year property tax increase that would generate about $20 million for the school district.

Superintendent Donna Howell and district facilities Director Rick Denney led forums about the issue in November and April. Although the strongest support at the forums has been for keeping the elementary school in Old Town, Howell said Thursday that an upcoming community survey could signal a change in public opinion.

"People who come to meetings often have strong passions," Howell said. "I think we really won't know what the entire community feels until we do a survey."

Building a school in east or west Steamboat could significantly increase traffic congestion on U.S. Highway 40, residents said, especially at the Whistler site close to Steamboat Ski Area and resort traffic.

The sites would require new access roads, and Howell said the west Steamboat site would require tapping into city utilities.

If the school district decides to rebuild Soda Creek in Old Town, Howell has said students could be housed at the George P. Sauer Human Services Center on Seventh Street for one school year while construction takes place.

Because a bond measure likely will not come before voters until November 2007, construction of a school may not begin until summer 2008, if the bond measure is approved.

Soda Creek students could then be housed at the human services center -- in 16 modular classrooms and inside the building, Howell said -- during the 2008-09 academic year.

That could overlap with the city's construction plans. The Steamboat Springs City Council voted Tuesday night to build the city's new community center at the human services center, pending the city's purchase or lease of the property from the school district, a process that has yet to be discussed.

Andrews & Anderson Architects has told the City Council that the ideal time to begin construction of the community center is November, far sooner than school district officials could vacate the building.

"A discussion (with city officials) needs to take place," Howell said.

The School Board is scheduled to discuss plans for the human services center at its meeting Monday night.

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