Steamboat School Board to re-evaluate facilities upgrade plan

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— The Steamboat Springs School Board unanimously voted two weeks ago to approve a $2.8 million school facilities improvement plan, but on Monday night, board members decided to take another look at a more expensive plan at their Dec. 9 meeting.

The original $2.8 million project was approved as a 25-year plan. The project – known as Option B – was one of three options compiled by Koby Kampschroeder, a representative of Navitas, a Kansas-based energy efficiency company, and Pascal Ginesta, the district's maintenance operations and transportation director. The plan included, among other things, window and door replacement at both Strawberry Park Elementary School and Steamboat Springs Middle School.

But Superintendent Brad Meeks said he had questions about future district finances, especially the almost certain prospect of building a third elementary school in Steamboat. A new elementary school would require a nearly $30 million bond referendum.

A facilities improvement bond also would require investors to buy Certificates of Participation (COPs). Borrowing money for facilities upgrades demands collateral that’s worth between 90 and 110 percent of the bond issued. Meeks and Director of Finance Dale Mellor said investors are much less interested in a project if there are multiple pieces of collateral, like the district office and the bus barn packaged together, for example.

By upgrading the school facilities improvement plan to Option C, which would install a more expensive but much needed HVAC system at the middle school, would increase the value of the building to make it worth enough to serve as the lone piece of collateral.

“Investors don’t want to buy COPs when you have all these different pieces of collateral, because then you’ve got problems,” Mellor said.

Option C and the new HVAC system would force the district to come up with $80,000 a year in shortfall savings because of its high construction cost. At the Nov. 11 meeting, Mellor said the $80,000 could come out of the district's capital reserve fund.

Board member Robin Crossan suggested the idea of merging Option B and Option C, so both Strawberry Park and the middle school could get their necessary improvements. Doing so, however, would cause the construction debt incurred to outweigh future energy savings with new units installed.

Although the four school board members supported their original decision to proceed with Option B, the majority agreed to re-evaluate the more expensive Option C as an action item on Dec. 9.

Meeks said the plan is to begin construction by mid-January and get a lot done while students are away during mid-winter break in February

“There are some open dates in Blues Break, and there might be times we can bring contractors into the buildings and get work done without students and staff around,” Meeks said.

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

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