Our View: School bond issue should be approved

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Referendum 3D asks Steamboat Springs School District voters for $29.7 million to replace Soda Creek Elementary School and make improvements at Strawberry Park Elementary.

We think the proposed bond issue is well structured, necessary and appropriate, and we urge voters to approve 3D.

Soda Creek Elementary School is more than 50 years old; it was built to last 40 years. An independent school district facilities assessment said Soda Creek is the district's worst facility and should be replaced. The assessment said Soda Creek has low ceilings, cramped space, inadequate ventilation and structural problems that required the installation of support beams in the middle of many classrooms. The beams obstruct views for students and teachers. Also, the building is configured awkwardly for traffic flow.

Anyone who doubts that Soda Creek needs to be replaced need only tour the building to understand its problems.

Thus, if we agree that the school needs to be replaced, the question becomes: "Does the bond issue deliver the right building for the right price?" We think it does.

In coming up with its proposal, the school district went through an arduous public process, gathering input during at least three rounds of public hearings and informational meetings last fall, spring and summer.

The new Soda Creek plan is based on an existing elementary school built in the Adams 12 District that was modified to meet Steamboat's needs. It includes 28 classrooms, a gym, a music room, a common area, a media room, administrative offices and a computer lab. It is designed to accommodate all-day kindergarten and an after-school program. It is 70,000 square feet.

The cost to build the new elementary school - $20.8 million - is less than the cost to remodel the high school 10 years ago. And delaying the decision to replace Soda Creek Elementary will only cost taxpayers more in repair, maintenance and increased construction costs.

We have advocated building the new Soda Creek Elementary at a different site in the past. However, we believe the school district did due diligence in deciding to keep the school at its current site downtown. This site, it seems, reflects the wishes of a majority of the community.

The improvements at Strawberry Park would add 10 classrooms, getting students out of the modular buildings in use now. The improvements would accommodate all-day kindergarten and add art, music and computer labs. The $8.8 million price tag is 30 percent of the total bond cost.

Estimates are that the bond issue will cost the owner of a median-priced home ($450,000) less than $100 a year in property tax. Because of state laws, business owners will have to pay about three times the property tax rate of homeowners.

In recent years, public funds have been used or approved to build a new tennis center, a new clubhouse at Haymaker Golf Course, a new library and a new community center, among others. Those are great amenities to have.

But adequate elementary school facilities are not amenities; they are necessities. Soda Creek has outlived its functionality, and the school district has put together a fiscally responsible plan to replace it. Vote yes on 3D and ensure our school children have adequate facilities for years to come.

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