District launched impressive campaign

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The Steamboat Springs School District again is asking for public input on its elementary school improvement projects.

Let's hope that, unlike the last time around, more people take advantage of this opportunity. The public forum is at 7 p.m. Dec. 7 at the school administration building on Seventh Street.

The forum is another smart move by the school district. That shouldn't come as a surprise - the district, under the leadership of Superintendent Donna Howell, has made all the right moves in putting together and selling the plan to replace Soda Creek Elementary and make improvements at Strawberry Park Elementary.

This campaign was more than a year in the making. The district held public meetings last fall, last spring and again last summer to gather input. Those public meetings were not always well attended, but the district also commissioned a community survey to get more concrete feedback.

Howell met with civic groups and organized a committee to advocate for the passage of the $29.5 million bond issue to pay for the new Soda Creek and the improvements to Strawberry Park.

When critics, including this newspaper, suggested that the new Soda Creek be built elsewhere, the district responded with data showing that the community overwhelmingly wanted to keep the elementary school at its downtown site.

Clearly, the district did its homework. Sixty percent of voters approved Referendum 3D - the bond issue to build Soda Creek downtown and improve Strawberry Park - on Nov. 7. (The district also got passage of a pay increase for teachers by an even wider margin.)

Based on the election results, no one would blame the district for pressing ahead with its plans without gathering more feedback.

But Howell noted that while many were supportive of the overall plan, there were minor concerns. The public forum gives residents a final opportunity to ask questions, offer ideas and provide feedback before construction on the projects begins next summer.

"We will review the plan again and take public comment," Howell said. "We are creating this building not only for the next five years, but for the next 40 years."

It is the right step by Howell and the school district. With four rounds of public meetings, including one after the bond issue's passage, no one can argue they did not have the chance to have their say on what the district is doing with its elementary campuses.

It is important to note that these are major projects that will be complicated by the need to relocate Soda Creek staff and students for more than a year while their new school is built. Transforming the George P. Sauer Human Services Center complex on Seventh Street into a serviceable elementary school will be no small feat. On Dec. 7, Soda Creek parents have the chance to get information on how that transformation will work and raise their concerns.

The school district has bent over backward to get our feedback on its construction plans. Shame on us if we don't take advantage of this opportunity on Dec. 7.

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