CC4E co-chairs, others want school board to offer public more than 2 building options
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Narrowing down grade-configuration options for the proposed new school — or schools — from 16 scenarios, the Steamboat Springs board of education chose two with which to move forward.
On March 4, they selected from four scenarios presented by the Advisory Committee, which for 13 months has been holding meetings and workshops to address the district’s overcrowding and existing facility needs.
The volunteer group, which includes 32 community members with diverse interests and backgrounds, began as four sub-committees — academic programs, extra-curricular and co-curricular needs, site constraints and possible solutions and communications — before merging as one group.
With the help of a facilitator, the committee has held community forums and focus groups. They’ve sent out surveys and gathered a massive amount of data.
The process centered on the Strawberry Park campus, where capacity issues are the most urgent.
The Advisory Committee concluded that four options were the best:
• Option A: Construct a new pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school
• Option B: Construct a new fifth- through eighth-grade middle school and add fifth grade to Steamboat Springs Middle School and convert both elementary schools to pre-kindergarten through fourth-grade campuses.
• Option C: Construct one or two pre-kindergarten to fifth-grade schools.
• Option D: Construct one new pre-kindergarten through fourth-grade school, and convert the entire Strawberry Park Campus to a 5-8 middle school
School board members universally liked Option A during a discussion at their March 4 meeting. They expressed preference for its flexibility, community support and cost effectiveness.
However the other option the board kept, Option B, was the least popular with the 28 voting members of the Advisory Committee. Not a single person ranked “B” as their first choice.
Option A was the most popular, with 75 percent of the committee choosing it as their first or second choice. Option C came in next, with 64 percent choosing it as their first or second choice, and Option D and Option B came in third and fourth at 39 percent and 21 percent respectively.
The final decision to move forward with Options A and B was approved in a 3-2 vote, with board members Michelle Dover, Margie Huron and Kelly Latterman voting in favor, and Joey Andrew and Katy Lee voting against.
The narrowing down of options to just two — which was argued as necessary to simplify for the public and reduce the workload going forward — involved a somewhat convoluted set of motions.
Prior to the final vote, Dover made a motion to eliminate Option D. It failed 3-2, with Andrew, Latterman and Lee voting against. Then Latterman made a motion to eliminate Option B, and that motion also failed, with Andrew, Lee and Huron voting against.
Option B was also not a popular option based on the extensive data gathering and community outreach conducted by the CC4E committee, which was formed following the failure of the $92 million bond in 2015.
One of the most vocalized pieces of feedback was a desire for smaller, walkable, neighborhood elementary schools.
CC4E co-chair Robin Schepper said she’d rather see the district go to the community with three options — bringing back Option D — the new pre-kindergarten through fourth-grade school.
Chris Johnson, the other CC4E co-chair, addressed the board, expressing concern that Option D, one new elementary school, was her group’s top choice. She also told the board they were at risk of making the same mistake as in 2015, when the option of moving the high school to the Overlook property was put to the community, but did not come from the community.
While Option C — two new elementary schools — was popular across the board, the cost of two schools was seen as prohibitive. Especially in light of the failure of the bond in 2015.
Option B would mean two middle schools, while Option D would mean one middle school taking over the entire Strawberry Park campus, potentially divided up with a fifth- and sixth-grade side and a seventh- and eighth-grade side.
Support from the teachers and staff was cited as a reason in favor of Option B over Option D by several board members.
Heidi Chapman-Hoy, principal at Steamboat Springs Middle School, told the board that in her own staff survey, 62 percent of votes went to Option A as the first choice and 78 percent of votes went to Option B for either first or second choice. She also said 450 students is the ideal size for a middle school.
Dover expressed concern about Option D meaning a “mega school.”
Huron said the staff should have a voice, and acknowledged they had more support for two middle schools over one.
Latterman said she thought narrowing down to just two options would improve their chances at getting a bond passed.
Schepper and Johnson point out that Option D would potentially free up more money for projects at the other schools, like upgrades to the high school science lab and adding another regulation-size gymnasium, possibly on the Strawberry Park campus.
At the March 18 meeting, the issue came back up, and people urged the board to leave Option D on the table.
Business owner Jim Hansen lauded CC4E for its work and called Option D “creative and fiscally responsible.”
The late Chris Hahn also spoke, praising CC4E and the work his son did as a student member of the committee.
“It’s not accurate that the community doesn’t want D,” Hahn told the board.
Following the March 18 meeting, Johnson and Schepper wrote a letter to Huron, addressing some of the concerns about a “mega” middle school.
They asked the board to bring back Option D as an option at the April 1 meeting.
“We don’t know which option the community will choose, and we don’t care — we just want them to have a real choice,” they wrote. “And we don’t want there to be backlash because a viable option was eliminated before input was gathered.”
Cost estimates at this time — both for the site and the grade configuration — are very preliminary and in the process of being refined as more decisions are made on the most viable building options.
While the board meetings, advisory committee meetings and workshops are all open to the public — and there have been a number of forums and surveys — Schepper and Johnson expressed concern the district wasn’t putting as much weight on community input as will be required to pass a high-cost bond in November.
“We want this to pass,” Schepper said. “But, I fear history is repeating itself. If the community is not more involved in the process, we will lose again.”
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