Steamboat school board conflicted over funding maintenance over new classrooms
June 26, 2017
A conflicted Steamboat Springs School Board wrestled Monday night with the balance between the school district's responsibility to catch up with long-deferred maintenance – old roofs and a deteriorating outdoor athletic complex – and the higher calling of building new classrooms to enhance the delivery of education to the community's children.
The calendar for putting a funding question to the district's voters in November is steadily narrowing; the board has another special meeting scheduled for July 18, when a decision is due.
As of June 26, it appears the board may be leaning toward asking the voters' permission to attack deferred maintenance projects, estimated to cost between $13 million and $18 million, and using bonded indebtedness to fund the projects.
The heartburn for school board members arrives in the form of knowing that they'll have to go back to the voters for a second phase as soon as 2018 to ask for larger sums of money if they are to address overcrowded schools by adding classrooms to Steamboat Springs High School, or building a new elementary school for an estimated $39 million — minus site work — or perhaps both.
"I think this is the tip of the iceberg right now," school board member Margaret Huron said. "Right now, we need to maintain the resources we already have in existence, things that can't go on for another couple of years. And everything is moving on – the (school building) roofs are still there, aging. I'm eager to move on to phase two. But as a citizen, we have to do something for these ongoing issues like these electrical panels in the schools. They're aging, just like I am, and we've got to keep up with them."
District Finance Director Mark Rydberg presented the board with some strategies for attacking deferred maintenance that he assembled with the help of the district's executive committee. Rydberg unveiled three bond proposals that would allow the district to borrow sufficient funds to tackle different levels of deferred maintenance at three levels of borrowing — $12.9 million, $15.3 million and $17.9 million.
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In all three cases, the debt service on the bonds would be funded with an "ongoing capital construction mill levy,” which is allowed under state law.
At the entry level, the district could pursue a $12.9 million, 10-year bond that would address most of the fundamental maintenance concerns recommended by the Community Committee for Education — CC4E. The recommendations include repairs to the stadium at Gardner Field, a resurfaced running track and new all-season turf for a total of $3.6 million. The district could also re-roof all of its neglected roofs — save for the transportation building — for $5.3 million and replace the heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment at the middle school for $4 million.
Cost estimates for all three projects include budget for construction add-ons and contingencies.
For an additional $2.4 million, Rydberg calculates the district could complete much-needed electrical upgrades at Strawberry Park Elementary School and Steamboat Springs Middle School. In addition, the district could build a security vestibule at the high school, build a bus loop at the high school to reduce traffic congestion and upgrade fire panels district-wide to enhance safety.
For another $2.6 million in bonded indebtedness – $17.9 million – the district could pave the parking lot at North Routt Community Charter School, improve the parking lots at StrawberryPark Elementary and the middle school and build a new science lab and ADA bathroom at Yampa Valley High School.
School board member Roger Good said he's worried that even after all that deferred maintenance is competed, the school district would not be in a position to assure voters it will never again allow the district to fail to keep up with required maintenance in the schools. The only way to do that, Good suggested is to assign an annual set-aside for every square foot of building space the district owns.
"In this room, we've talked about, let's put together a long-term fix," Good said. “I'm concerned about messaging (to the voters). We've said, this is a long-term fix for maintenance. Is it really?"
School Board President Joey Andrews, aware that the half-cent sales tax for education will be up for renewal in 2018, and the Yampa Valley Housing Authority is exploring a property tax for workforce housing during the 2017 election cycle, told the group he's concerned that the voters "will see a crowded ballot in the next five years."
CC4E Chairperson Bette Vandahl reminded the school board that after many community forums, her group found support for a $31 million bond issue that would include $12.7 million for deferred maintenance as well as a $5.7 million addition at the high school and a $3.3 million new gym at Strawberry Park Elementary, among other projects. She added that the committee received very little "blowback from the community," over the addition to the high school.
"I think our recommendations would probably pass this fall," Vandahl said. "I think they are viable."