Broadband installation moving forward for South Routt
Final funding pieces are falling into place this week to move the installation forward for broadband fiber optic connections to South Routt County by no later than February 2022.
Ciara Bartholomew, South Routt School District business and finance director, said the district received a second $2.9 million grant from the Colorado Department of Education through the Connecting Colorado Students Grant program last week. That doubles the broadband funding awarded to the district through the CDE.
The district received an initial $2.9 million grant through the CDE program in February in order to bring broadband service to homes of district students and staff in Oak Creek, Phippsburg and Yampa. In February, the school district and Luminate Broadband, a subsidiary of Yampa Valley Electric Association, announced a partnership to provide broadband service to the three South Routt towns.
Bartholomew said the second grant award will cover high-speed broadband service to the Stagecoach area, where about 40 district students and seven district staff live currently. Service to Stagecoach will presumably be provided by Luminate Broadband with a goal of installation next summer, according to Rim Watson, school district superintendent.
During COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, sufficient internet bandwidth became a pressing issue for schools.
“Some of our students when we went remote, they had no internet access at all, and that was a major issue,” Watson said. “That means even hot spots were not an option. We had hot spots purchased and ready to go, but we found out it would not meet our students’ needs because they did not have cell service at their house.
“Remote instruction now is a need and a responsibility. We have to have a remote option plan in place,” said Watson, whose district has an official count of 290 preschool through high school students.
Bartholomew cited another example of the importance of sufficient internet connection — more new textbooks are offered online or have an online component, which is a less expensive purchase option.
Through the school district’s efforts to bring in high-speed fiber optic connection, other homes and businesses in the South Routt community will have the opportunity to purchase Luminate service, as well. Luminate offers up to 1 gigabit high-speed internet connection at its highest tier of service as well as VoIP (voice over internet protocol) phone service.
“It’s a huge thing for the community, as well,” Watson said.
The school district has a one-to-one initiative that provides a Chromebook computer for every student, and students in sixth to 12th grades regularly take the computers home to help with homework. Bartholomew said the CDE grants also will pay for one year of basic level, or 100 megabit per second, broadband connection for school district member households. She said the two combined grants will allow the district to provide high-speed connection options to the homes of 95% of the school district households.
The initial CDE funds of $2.9 million for Oak Creek, Phippsburg and Yampa must be used by February 2022, Bartholomew said. That tight timeline for grant use created some logistical and construction struggles. YVEA General Manager Steve Johnson said Luminate rearranged engineering schedules in order to accommodate the South Routt timeline. Johnson said tight construction timelines in the Colorado mountains are further complicated by current shortages of contractors and housing.
Luminate subcontractors have completed installation and activation for new broadband customers in Craig since December 2019, in Hayden since July 2020 and in Clark since October 2020, according to Luminate Vice President of Operations Chris MacIntyre.
Final funding needs led to a meeting of officials from Luminate, the school district and the town of Oak Creek in front of the Routt Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday morning. The meeting included a long discussion that revolved around 13 power poles that are part of Oak Creek’s electric system. Town officials asserted the power poles are in sufficient shape to hang broadband fiber optics, while Luminate officials wanted the poles replaced.
The cost for replacement is approximately $7,000 per pole, and the estimated cost of the fiber optic line section in question was estimated at $300,000 to $500,000, dependent on conditions found in the field during work. Additional infrastructure for the town of Oak Creek was not in the scope of the state grant award, Bartholomew explained.
Officials from Oak Creek, Luminate and the school district came to a verbal agreement to push the project “over the finish line.” Johnson agreed that Luminate would contribute up to $150,000, plus other joint use attachment fees. Oak Creek committed $124,000 toward the project, including $100,000 in American Rescue Plan Act grant funds. Routt County commissioners will contribute up to $125,000 toward the project to help meet existing grant funding deadlines.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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The National Weather Service in Grand Junction has issued a winter storm warning for much of the West Slope ahead of a major weather system expected in the area starting Thursday.