Building support: A closer look at the proposed Steamboat Springs School District bond measure |

Building support: A closer look at the proposed Steamboat Springs School District bond measure

Teresa Ristow

— Steamboat Springs School District administrators and the Board of Education last summer received the results of the district's most comprehensive demographic study in 10 years and were advised that another school must be built to accommodate sustained increasing enrollment.

"You need to add another school, or you're going to be dealing with problems," said demographer Shannon Bingham in August 2014.

After nearly a year of strategic planning and the development of a new district master plan, administrators and the school board have decided that a new high school and some calculated upgrades to buildings district-wide would best address increasing enrollment for decades to come.

Younger students would fill out the district's remaining buildings, which would all undergo some renovations and millions in deferred maintenance.

The question now is whether the community has been given enough reasons and information to support what could be a $92 million bond issue to fund the project.

A familiar history

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After the first public schoolhouse opened in Steamboat Springs in the late 1800s, it took just a few years for 13 students to become 35 and for the town to recognize the need for a new building.

When the Pine Street schoolhouse opened in 1892, the large building had ample room for an enrollment that had grown to 100 students. But within only a few years, the Routt County Sentinel newspaper reported that, "a still larger building would have been welcomed."

The community quickly became familiar with bond measures for school capital construction, and by 1963, residents had voted overwhelmingly to fund $650,000 in bonds for a new high school. In 1971, another $950,000 bond issue added 26 classrooms across the district's then three schools.

While year-to-year enrollment hasn't always increased in the Steamboat Springs School District, student numbers have steadily grown from decade to decade, along with Steamboat's overall population.

Bond measures over the last 100 years have funded the construction of every Steamboat Springs school operating today — two elementary schools, a middle school, a high school and a district administration facility with attached alternative school.

With enrollment and city population is expected to grow at a steady pace over the next five years and beyond, school board members and district officials in the past year have zeroed in on the need for more teaching space and some district-wide upgrades and are now considering the first school bond measure in nearly 10 years.

Rebuilding Soda Creek

After five years of relatively flat enrollment that hovered around 1,925 students, district officials in 2004 commissioned a demographic study to guide planning for facility updates over the coming years.

Although enrollment had increased in the decades following the district's last major construction — a 1979 bond measure that funded the construction of Strawberry Park Elementary and Steamboat Springs Middle School, as well as upgrades to Steamboat Springs High School — enrollment was expected to remain the same.

"The growth was projected to be flat," said Denise Connelly, a member of the school board from 2005 to 2013.

"Be very conservative," Bingham said while presenting the board with a demography report in January 2005. "I do not anticipate a great deal of growth in this district."

With the report in hand, board members moved forward with plans to replace Soda Creek Elementary, built in 1955, and to expand district elementary facilities at Soda Creek and Strawberry Park by enough to eliminate numerous modular classrooms that were in use, without overbuilding classrooms they didn't expect to need.

"At that time, we had people moving out of Steamboat because of the economy," Connelly said, "And we didn't want to overbuild."

In November 2006, Steamboat Springs residents passed the $29.7 million Referendum 3D, which funded the total rebuild of Soda Creek Elementary and the addition of 10 new classrooms at Strawberry Park Elementary, primarily to replace existing modular classrooms housing one-quarter of the student population at the time.

Construction of the new Soda Creek took place during the 2007-08 school year, during which time students attended school in a cluster of modular classrooms on the district office lawn known as "Camp Soda Creek."

While the new and improved Soda Creek and Strawberry Park campuses were just large enough for the elementary population in the fall of 2008, it was quickly becoming clear that the 2004 demographic report was too conservative.

Between 2004 and 2008, the district saw an increase of 200 students.

An updated demographic report released in 2008 emphasized the possible need for more elementary capacity in the district, but the report tied that need directly to the success of the then-proposed Steamboat 700 housing development.

Even though voters rejected that project, and Steamboat 700 was never developed, students continued to flood into Steamboat, with enrollment rising to 2,460 students across the district last fall.

An entirely new school board and district superintendent realized then it was once again time to revisit the district's facility plans and seek updated enrollment projections for the coming years.

Gathering support

Last fall, the district again hired demographer Shannon Bingham to provide a new enrollment outlook, which projected an increase of 200 more students in the district between 2014 and the 2018-19 school year.

Despite the failure of new housing developments, such as Steamboat 700, and an economic downturn that drove away some working class families, location-neutral business owners are flocking to Steamboat in high, but difficult to track, numbers.

After determining the steady enrollment growth the district has been experiencing since 2005 was expected to continue, school board members agreed earlier this year to hire an engineer and architect to begin preparing for capital construction.

“After a decade of growth, something needs to be done to address our capacity challenges, especially for the elementary students, and longer term for when they graduate to the middle and high school,” said board member Scott Bideau. “We’ve got enough students already enrolled to halfway fill a third elementary. The middle school is also over capacity, and the high school could fill up in just over five years.”

Architect Matt Porta, of SlaterPaull/HCM, and owner's representative Jeff Chamberlin, of RLH Engineering, led a series of public meetings about the planning process while also meeting with teachers, principals and community stakeholders, including the Rotary Club of Steamboat Springs, the city of Steamboat Springs and Routt County officials, during the past six months.

Options were considered to renovate each existing school, build a new elementary school or new elementary-middle school, purchase and renovate Heritage Christian School west of town or build a new high school and shuffle students around to fill out the remaining schools.

A variety of strong opinions surfaced at each public meeting, and though attendees began to support an option for a new high school, many were resistant to the idea of putting it on district-owned property near the Steamboat II subdivision.

In May, the opportunity to purchase a 70-acre site within Steamboat city limits surfaced.

Owned by the Yampa Valley Electric Association, the property no longer had any planned use, and YVEA officials announced their interest in a potential agreement to sell.

With the purchase of the property a possibility, Porta and Chamberlin in June presented their final master plan to the school board — including the recommendation to build a new high school on the YVEA site and complete renovations and maintenance across the district.

OPTION C.2 – Bond breakdown

The favored option of the school board and district administration has been labeled C.2 and includes the construction of a new high school, renovations at the existing schools and several million in deferred maintenance. Current cost estimates for C.2 total $92 million, but are still under review by the school board.

Deferred maintenance across the district would be $14 million, or about 15 percent of the total option cost, and would include dozens of projects necessary to bring the district into compliance with state and federal codes based on safety and accessibility.

"The two biggest immediate issues are the roofs," said Pascal Ginesta, director of maintenance, operations and transportation for the district, referring to roof replacements planned for the middle school and high school. "It's pretty regular when we have a storm that I end up with buckets in the gym or the weight room."

Ginesta explained that, with a $300,000 annual budget for capital maintenance projects, big items like roofs, synthetic stadium turf or HVAC systems are out of reach without taking money from outside the maintenance budget or without a bond measure to cover costs.

Other improvements include new door and key hardware, security upgrades, parking lot resurfacing and new sidewalks, which Ginesta said "are just hammered."

New Steamboat Springs West high school — $70 million

• Overlook site off Downhill Drive

• Grades 9-12

• A new 199,000-square-foot high school would add 49 new teaching stations to the district with an initial student capacity of 970 students and the potential to expand to house 1,100 students in the future. The 70-acre Overlook site allows for the construction of a new district stadium, with enough remaining space to add another district elementary school in the future.

• Total construction costs, $56 million; site total, $70 million (includes, soft goods, architecture and engineering fees, contingency funds and other expenses)

Steamboat Springs Middle School — $8 million

• Current high school site

• Grades 6-8

• No additions would be built.

• Renovations would include a new centralized district kitchen, new special education classes and computer labs, a "makerspace" and STEAM (science, technology, art, engineering and mathematics) lab, a two-section music room and additional foreign language classrooms.

• Capital improvements include new parking lot pavement, roof replacement, replacement of the synthetic turf field, bleachers and press box, replacement of damaged site walkways and interior finishes such as paint and flooring.

• High cost items include roof replacement at $1.46 million and replacement of artificial turf at $650,000.

• Total maintenance costs, $5.6 million; educational programming renovations, $436,000; site total, $8 million

Strawberry Park Elementary Intermediate — $7 million

• Current middle school site

• Grades 3-5

• A small new classroom addition would replace an attached modular unit currently holding sixth-grade classes, and a new playground would be purchased and installed.

• Renovations include more areas for small group learning and the incorporation of space for the Boys & Girls Club of Steamboat Springs.

• Capital improvements include updated interior finishes such as paint and flooring, a new HVAC system to provide controlled airflow in the building for the first time, a roof replacement, paved fire access around the building, kitchen power upgrades and new restroom finishes.

• High cost items include the new roof at $994,500 and an HVAC system for $2.1 million.

• Total maintenance costs, $5.3 million; site total, $7 million

Strawberry Park Elementary Primary — $4.4 million

• Current Strawberry Park Elementary site

• Grades PK-2

• Renovations would include remodeling for preschool classrooms and restrooms and remodeling for small group learning and special education spaces.

• Capital improvements include masonry repairs, new restroom finishes, interior painting and flooring, replacement of 1981-era electrical gear and panels, upgraded security camera and fire alarm panels, repaving of parking lot, paving fire access around the building, replacing the roof and replacing damaged sidewalks, and drainage improvements for safety around the playground.

• High cost items include the new roof at $587,500 and updated restrooms for $225,000.

• Total maintenance costs, $2.1 million; site total, $4.4 million

Soda Creek Elementary — $761,000

• Grades PK-5

• The only addition at Soda Creek would be a new pre-kindergarten playground and storage area.

• Renovations would include interior remodeling for more small group learning spaces, preschool classrooms and restrooms and professional development space.

• Construction and capital renewal costs total $442,000; site total $761,000

District administration — $1.28 million

• District administration, Yampa Valley High School and Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services offices would remain at this site on Seventh Street and undergo deferred maintenance. A district kitchen and the Boys & Girls Club would move to the new Steamboat Springs Middle School site on Maple Street, and preschool classes would move to the elementary campuses.

• A small addition or renovation would add a science lab and classroom space for Yampa Valley High School.

• Construction costs total $825,000; site total $1.28 million.

The $92 million question

District officials late last month finalized a contract with the Yampa Valley Electric Association to purchase a 70-acre lot on the western border of Steamboat Springs for $3.6 million.

The property's sale wouldn't close until January, after voters decide the fate of a presumed November bond measure.

The board has meetings at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 3 and Aug. 10 to continue its discussion on the bond issue.

The public is encouraged to attend the meetings and provide feedback on the project during public comment periods.

A community campaign group called Yes2SteamboatSchools has been formed to help promote the bond issue, and those interested in volunteering or donating to the group can email or visit for more information.

Throughout the planning process, Superintendent Brad Meeks has said numerous times that he feels the district's duty is to provide information on the condition and needs of the community's schools, along with possible solutions, acknowledging the ultimate decision is the public's.

"These are the community's schools," Meeks said in May. "While we're fortunate enough to be able to work in the district and work with students and staff, these are public facilities owned by the community.

"We're reporting out to the public the state of our facilities and what the needs are, but really, we want to get enough information out to the public so they can make a decision," Meeks added.

The board is expected to approve final bond language and the bond amount at its 5:30 p.m. meeting Monday, Aug. 24.

Former board member Connelly said it's difficult to predict just yet how residents might respond to a November bond measure.

"It will be interesting to see how it plays out," she said. "If it's what the voters want, it will pass."

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow

By the numbers:

Current district capacity: 2,420 students

Capacity with C.2 upgrades: 3,300 students

Fall 2014 enrollment: 2,380 students

*2,460 with North Routt Community Charter School

Projected 2018 enrollment: 2,660 students with NRCCS

Tax impacts:

Preliminary tax impacts show approximate taxpayer costs for a $92 million bond measure.

For residential properties, the most current estimates predict a bond would increase taxes by $50 per $100,000 of actual property value as assessed by the Routt County assessor.

Because actual assessed values lag the market by up to 18 months, 2015 values listed on the assessor’s office are somewhat lower than current market sale prices and will likely rise during the next cycle of assessments in 2016.

“Everything will depend on how assessed value grows and how individual home values change,” said Rudy Andras, an economist with RBC Capital Markets in Denver, the investment banking company contracted by the district to facilitate bonds and predict tax impacts.

For commercial properties, taxes are determined at a rate 3.64 times the residential tax rate, meaning for this bond a $182 increase annually, per $100,000 of assessed actual value, as listed on the county assessor’s site.

Residential tax impacts

• Current school tax bill is currently $134 per $100,000 of assessed actual value. Future tax bill would be $184 per $100,000.

• For a home valued at $500,000, the current tax bill is $669. The future tax bill would be $921, a difference of $252

Commercial tax impacts

• Current school tax bill is $487 per $100,000 of value. Future tax bill would be $669 per $100,000.

• For a $1 million valued downtown business, the current tax bill is $4,873. The future tax bill would be $6,693, a difference of $1,820

• For a smaller shop or café outside downtown valued at $400,000, the current tax bill is $1,949. The future tax bill would be $2,650, a difference of $728

An additional mill levy override to run the new high school will gradually increase over a three-year period and eventually generate $1.98 million annually.

*Tax numbers are subject to change on August 25 when preliminary assessed value data for 2015 is released by Routt County.