Steamboat School Board will ask voters to approve $12.9M bond, $1M annual mill levy for upgrading facilities | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat School Board will ask voters to approve $12.9M bond, $1M annual mill levy for upgrading facilities

Steamboat Springs School Board votes unanimously to go to the voters the fund the first phrase of upgrading school facilities.

The Steamboat Springs School Board voted unanimously July 18 to direct Superintendent Brad Meeks to draft ballot language needed to go to the district's voters in November seeking approval both to take on $12.9 million in bonded indebtedness and a $1 million ongoing capital construct mill levy. The former would target district facilities in disrepair, including the roofs of five buildings, and the latter is meant to ensure the district doesn't fall behind on facilities maintenance again in the future.

In addition to repairing the 20-year-old-roofs that have reached the end of their lifespans — including Strawberry Park Elementary School, Steamboat Springs Middle School, Steamboat Springs High School, and two other buildings — the bond issue would completely refurbish the athletic facilities at Gardner Field, which Meeks described as an outdoor classroom, itself.

The board didn't reach unanimity without enduring some heartburn over the plans for Gardner Field; board president Joey Andrew and board member Sam Rush  favored  replacing the all-season turf and resurfacing the running track at Gardner Field, but both wanted to defer a plan to replace the old aluminum bleachers along with the press box at the stadium. And board member Roger Good said he was reluctant to go along with the replacement of the bleachers until the district had formally asked the Education Fund Board, which oversees the district's half-cent sales tax, to participate.

In the end, they were persuaded by Meeks that the bleachers represent a significant safety issue.

"I'm a retired physical education teacher, and I understand its importance to education," Rush said. "I'm worried about how the voters will perceive the emphasis on Gardner Field. I still want the stadium separated out, but I don't think my vote against that will change" the outcome. "I'll support it and go out in the community" to advocate for it.

This year's ballot question would mark only the first phrase of a multi-year effort to build many of the projects recommended in May by the Community Committee for Education, or CC4E, many of them significantly more costly than the projects being prepped for voters this fall. The community volunteers with CC4E called for projects such as adding science classrooms at the high school, building a gymnasium at Strawberry Park Elementary School to take pressure off the current combined gym/cafeteria and perhaps, somewhere beyond 2019, building a new elementary school at a site to be determined.

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CC4E member Mary Darcy urged the board members to go bigger in 2017.

"Strawberry Park Elementary School needs a new gym, and the high school needs new science classrooms," she said. "The people I know understand that. I believe if you follow CC4E's main recommendations, the ballot issue will pass."

Meeks reminded the board that, "There's a lot of pride in the community in our schools" and added a multi-phase approach to modernizing and upgrading facilities would allow the district to get started this year by attacking long-neglected maintenance projects and afford more time to make sure the district gets the next steps right.

"Phase I is a prelude to a long-term, comprehensive infrastructure plan tied to our strategic plan, which we expect to bring to the community for a vote in the future," Meeks told the school board.

The conversation among the members of the board was continuing at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, with board members asking District Finance Director Mark Rydberg detailed questions about how much the district could save in interest payments if it shortened the duration of the bond issue from 10 years to seven years.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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