Our View: Balance needed for 700 requests

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— Steamboat Springs School District officials are wise to pursue a land donation from the developers of Steamboat 700. But their request that developers fund half the cost of building a future school is unreasonable.

Steamboat Springs interim Superintendent Sandra Smyser asked the city last week to support the school district's request that Steamboat 700 developers provide 14 acres of land for a school site and cover half the cost of building the facility. According to Smyser, the district's demographer expects the Steamboat 700 development to be home to 306 school-aged children, including 128 elementary students.

Even if those projected numbers hold true - and recent history cautions us against giving them much credence - we question the suggestion that developers should pay for public education facilities simply because their projects might house new students. The school district saw its enrollment jump unexpectedly by 111 students this year (demographers had predicted only a slight increase). Finance Director Dale Mellor previously has said most of the students live in Steamboat Springs. The additional students brought a significant revenue increase to the district and necessitated only minor staffing adjustments.

Other developments within city limits likely are to bring more school-aged children to Steamboat Springs. If the district believes developers should pay for school infrastructure, perhaps it should develop a formula by which to charge all residential developers for the impact their projects have on the school system.

Of course, such a proposal is silly. The bottom line is public education is funded by taxpayers, and it's up to us to decide when and if we want or need to fund new school facilities. Voters recently signed off on a nearly $30 million school bond issue to rebuild Soda Creek Elementary School in its existing Old Town location and renovate Strawberry Park Elementary School, just a short distance away. The school district dismissed the idea of building a new school west of town, where future development has been scheduled to take place since the adoption of the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan more than 10 years ago. The district already owns 35 acres of land adjacent to Steamboat 700, and Smyser said her request for an additional 14 acres is needed to satisfy the ideal size requirements of both elementary and secondary school campuses. Based on the per-acre cost of purchasing the land west of Steamboat, developers essentially would be giving the school district more than $600,000.

Providing some additional land for the district to meet potential school facility needs is a reasonable request of Steamboat 700 developers.

Asking for an untold amount of money to build a future school that may or may not be needed isn't. It's demands such as these that jeopardize the most important thing Steamboat Springs stands to gain from the proposed development - a stock of attainable housing for our work force.

Of any local employer, the school district should grasp the significance of such housing. For years, the district has struggled to keep its most talented employees in Steamboat, with cost of living being one of the determining factors.

It was less than two years ago that the district successfully went to voters with a mill levy override that is generating more than $600,000 a year to increase teacher and support staff salaries as well as provide funds for other attraction and retention methods, including housing allowances.

Steamboat 700 could provide entry-level homes for young teachers interested in starting families and building careers here. But demanding too much of the developers is the surest way of dooming the expansive property to 35-acre ranchettes.

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