Hayden mayor asks school district to donate high school building to town
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Hayden’s mayor made an official request Friday to acquire the town’s soon-to-be-vacant Hayden High School from the Hayden School District.
The move is the latest in an effort to repurpose the school as a community center ahead of the construction of a new, pre-kindergarten through 12th grade facility. This comes after 85% of respondents in a recent survey said they support saving and repurposing parts of the school, including the gymnasium and auditorium.
In a letter to Brian Hoza, president of the Hayden School Board, Mayor Tim Redmond requested the school district donate the land and the buildings slated for conservation. Redmond said receiving the property by donation was necessary to make preserving it financially feasible.
“As you can see from our financial models, the monies are tight with no room for error,” he wrote in the letter. “We are asking for your help.”
Costs of preserving the school
The buildings are in need of some repairs and renovations before the public could use them. According to Redmond, the cost is estimated to be $3.5 million to $4 million. Covering those renovations would require the town to issue debt of an estimated $500,000 to $1 million. Operating the building is expected to cost more than $400,000 each year.
The request for the donation did not come as a surprise to Hoza, who has been aware of efforts from many members of the community to find ways to finance the repurposing project.
“What is really important is we would have to have support from the community,” Hoza said.
A decision on Redmond’s request would not come until the board’s December meeting at the earliest.
In the letter, Redmond and other town officials justified the donation partly based on the fact that Hayden residents have already paid more than $1.7 million toward the high school through taxes over the past 19 years, not counting money that went to salaries.
Redmond said Hayden has about $100,000 it could use to purchase the property if the School Board is not in favor of donating it, but officials want to use that money as matching funds for a grant the town plans to apply for in April.
Hayden officials, including Town Manager Mathew Mendisco, have applied for several grants to cover some of the projected costs associated with saving the building. Totally Kids, a nonprofit that provides after-school care, has applied for an additional $1.3 million in grants and plans to apply for an additional $2.5 million next year, according to Redmond.
Acquiring the school also would require a 1% sales tax increase, Redmond said. Town officials would conduct a special election in April to seek public approval. Some residents have pushed back against the proposed tax hike, but officials see it as the fairest and most logical funding source.
“If the 1% sales tax increase in April 2020 does not pass, the town will not be able to save this facility and will not move forward with this project,” Redmond said in the letter.
Repurposing the school
In the survey sent to residents, a recreation facility and an after-school program arose as the two most popular options for repurposing the gymnasium. To this end, Redmond said Totally Kids would have a dedicated space within the facility, giving the nonprofit its first “permanent home.” If preserved, the auditorium would be used as an entertainment venue for things like concerts and theater productions.
School Board Secretary Tammie Delaney emphasized she does not speak for the entire board but personally sees the repurposing project as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Hayden that could fulfill some of the town’s long-term goals. She referred to Routt County’s Vision 2030 report finalized a decade ago, which sought to “define the future of the Yampa Valley” based on surveys from residents. Delaney served as the project manager for Vision 2030.
“The concept of a multi-use recreation and performing arts center, also a youth and day care center, was a highly desired outcome,” she said of the report. “What an opportunity to fulfill something that was envisioned quite some time ago.”
Delaney cautioned that any excitement about repurposing the school has to be balanced with financial responsibility.
Hayden School Board members will discuss the future of the high school during its next meeting on Monday, Dec. 9, according to Delaney. She and Hoza are unsure if the board will come to a decision that day.
“We know we are already on a tight timeline,” Hoza said.
Students in the district are scheduled to move into the new pre-kindergarten through 12th grade facility by fall 2020, according to previous Steamboat Pilot & Today reporting. A $38.8 million BEST grant from the state of Colorado funded a large part of the project.
The BEST grant funding requires the old Hayden High School to be demolished unless a public entity, in this case the town of Hayden, takes over. If the town does not acquire the school, it will be destroyed, Hoza said.
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