From a concept to a reality

School Board plans new Soda Creek

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— Now the real work begins.

The Steamboat Springs School Board took the first steps toward turning a conceptual campaign into a physical reality Monday night, nearly two weeks after Steamboat Springs voters approved a $29.7 million bond issue to fund construction of a new Soda Creek Elementary School and renovations to Strawberry Park Elementary School.

The School Board and Superintendent Donna Howell discussed logistical questions such as when to move Soda Creek's more than 400 students to a temporary school site, and financial questions such as how to best issue the sizeable bond to optimize taxpayer dollars.

During construction of the new Soda Creek facility, which board member Pat Gleason said will likely be "an 18-month project," Soda Creek students will attend school at the nearby George P. Sauer Human Services Center on Seventh Street, using the historic building and modular classrooms placed on the large adjacent lawn.

While moving students in April would allow the earliest possible start to construction, Howell advised against breaking up the school year.

"I am making the strong recommendation that we do not move the students in April," Howell said. "I think we have to be sensitive to education, the students and the staff."

Howell and Gleason said Monday that beginning construction immediately after the school year could mean the new Soda Creek school will not be ready for students until November or December of 2008, or possibly January 2009.

"From what I've seen in Steamboat, things usually take longer than they would elsewhere," Howell said of the construction process. "There are a lot of unknowns."

The School Board voted unanimously to authorize Howell to prepare contracts hiring architectural firm Christiansen, Reece & Partners for the Soda Creek and Strawberry Park projects, and hiring the Denver financial firm RBC Dain Rauscher to issue the bonds.

Both firms have worked with the school district since the conception of the ballot issue approved by voters Nov. 7.

On Monday night, RBC economist Dan O'Connell presented two plans for issuing the bonds. One plan would take advantage of a "bank-qualified" structure that O'Connell said would save nearly $148,500 in interest costs - and taxpayer dollars - during the 20-year bond repayment.

But to use that structure, which would issue $10 million of the bond next month and the remaining $19.7 million in January, school district Finance Director Dale Mellor would have a busy week ahead.

"The only reason we wouldn't do this is that generally, when we pass a bond issue, it takes about three months to put it together," O'Connell said, citing a voluminous amount of document preparation. "Obviously, we don't have that kind of time - we have about two or three weeks. And that falls on Dale."

Howell and the School Board asked Mellor whether the job was feasible, and when Mellor said yes, gave Mellor the go-ahead to pursue the bank-qualified structure.

"It's not going to be easy, but I believe it can be done," Mellor said.

Mellor will not be the only school finance administrator working hard around the Thanksgiving holiday. Fourteen school districts in Colorado received voter approval for bond issues this year, ranging from a $296.8 million bond for improvements to the 54 schools in the Boulder Valley School District to a $248,000 bond to increase salaries in a Montrose-area district.

In neighboring Eagle County, voters approved a $128 million bond issue for numerous improvements including a new high school, a new elementary school and land purchases.

"Now all these districts are starting to issue bonds," O'Connell said.

That could mean competition for construction staff, Howell noted.

"We do need to move quickly to get quality people on board," Howell said.

Howell and architect Leland Reece will meet with staff at Soda Creek on Dec. 6, and with community members and staff at Strawberry Park on Dec. 7, for input on the school projects.

The School Board's next meeting is Dec. 4.

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