Our View: The challenge is elementary | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: The challenge is elementary

We were as surprised as many of you were Tuesday morning to pick up our electronic devices and read the news that the Steamboat Springs School District is already behind the curve in making plans to build a third elementary school.

Wasn't it just a few years ago that the new Soda Creek Elementary School opened?

Actually, the news that school enrollment is outpacing expectations comes just eight years after voters here voted by a large margin in November 2006 to pass a $29.5 million bond issue to allow the district to replace Soda Creek Elementary School on its historic Old Town site and add classrooms to Strawberry Park Elementary.

District taxpayers are right to ask questions about how we've fallen behind and been caught by surprise by increasing enrollment. And the history surrounding the decisions to build new schools in Steamboat in this century strongly suggests to us that before the district hustles to get back ahead of the curve, it needs to slow down and allow taxpayers to exert some control over the process.

That said, demographer Shannon Bingham told the school board Monday night that its two elementary schools are already over capacity. In fact, he went as far as saying that Soda Creek may have been over capacity by the time it opened in 2008.

With the middle school also nearing over capacity, if the district intends to maintain its preferred student-teacher ratios, it's time to begin thinking about alternatives, possibly including a new school. That doesn't mean the district couldn't buy some time with the new modulars on the Soda Creek campus and rely on even larger class sizes as a temporary fix.

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What many of us may have forgotten is that the bond issue, which allowed the district to live up to strong public sentiment to replace Soda Creek on its existing site in Old Town, actually added significantly more classrooms to Strawberry Park Elementary than it did to Soda Creek. Soda Creek added four classrooms, growing from 24 to 28, and six flex learning spaces. The expanded Strawberry Park, where classrooms were already built around flex spaces called pods, got 12 new classrooms. Before the addition, 25 percent of its students were already in modulars.

The new, 70,000-square-foot Soda Creek was modeled after Prairie in Thornton, and for the first time, the school had an adequate ventilations system.

The effort to involve the public in the decision-making process leading up to the vote on the bond issue in 2006 was extensive. The school superintendent at the time, Donna Howell, convened public informational meetings in spring, summer and fall. And the district commissioned a scientific survey that indicated that an overwhelming majority of respondents wanted to keep Soda Creek in Old Town. The measure passed by a 60 to 40 margin.

In 1995, the school district resolved to float a $41.8 million bond issue by the voters in order to build a new high school on the city's west side. That measure was roundly defeated by a 2-1 margin. But instead of giving up on providing our students a better facility, a task force, including a variety of community leaders, was formed to come up with a plan to deliver a modern high school by remodeling and adding onto the old high school at the same site along Spring Creek.

The second time around, in 1997 a $24.75 million bond issue passed with 69 percent of the votes and the facility has been serving us well ever since.

Flash forward to 2014, and the district has already formed a strategic planning group to look into its future. We reported just last week the district will spend $32,500 for a facilitator to guide a three-day planning retreat to be attended by 15 district employees and 15 community members, including two students.

Whether that group expands to tackle an in-depth study of our possible need for a new school, or hands off to another group, we need the kind of broad consensus in 2015 or 2016 that we achieved in 1997.

At issue

Despite opening a new elementary school in 2008, the school district finds itself short on elementary classrooms

Our view

History teaches us it’s not time to rush to fill the need but step back and involve the community in a careful analysis of best solution

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