Hayden moves forward with purchase of school, despite not having public vote to maintain it

Hayden Town Manager Mathew Mendisco discusses potential new uses for the town's soon-to-be-vacant secondary school during a reuse meeting in October. Town officials recently signed a contract to purchase the school from the Hayden School District for $50,000, with closing on the deal scheduled for the fall.
Derek Maiolo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — At its Thursday, Jan. 9, meeting, the Hayden Town Council gave unanimous approval directing staff to move forward with a deal to purchase a portion of the Hayden High School, despite a recent snag in an effort to repurpose the building as a community center.

Complicating the deal is a March 1 deadline for the Hayden School District, which owns the school property, to finalize demolition plans in order to meet requirements of the $38.8 million BEST grant that is helping to fund construction of a new, pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade campus

The grant requires the entire school to be demolished unless a public entity, in this case the town of Hayden, purchases it. In order to save the portion of the school slated for the proposed community center, including the gymnasium and auditorium, the school district needs to close on the deal with the town before the March deadline. 

Residents have voiced overwhelming support to repurpose the space into a community center with multiple amenities, ranging from a day care facility to fitness center to entertainment venue. But financing those operations would require public funding in the form of a 1% sales tax increase, according to Town Manager Mathew Mendisco. A vote to approve such a tax is not expected to come until the November election, which means the town has to purchase the school without the official public approval to operate it. 

“I’m sure most of the board members are not comfortable moving forward before we have the town’s OK,” Mayor Tim Redmond said during Thursday’s meeting.

He later acknowledged, “We don’t have much choice in the matter if we want to make this situation work.”

Fellow council members agreed with Redmond, citing extensive public outreach in the past, such as multiple meetings regarding the deal and a survey showing 85% of respondents support repurposing the school into a community center. 

“The town, from what we’ve heard, has voiced positive support,” council member Tammi Engle said. 

On Monday, Jan. 6, Town Council met with members of the Hayden School Board and the public during a special work session to discuss the deal. About 30 residents attended, according to Mendisco, all of whom were in favor of saving the school. 

As part of the deal, Hayden must pay the school district $50,000, a fraction of its $550,000 appraisal value, according to School Board President Brian Hoza. 

While he said the money is necessary to cover the school district’s fiduciary responsibilities, council member Richard Hagins argued the school should have been donated, as Town Council originally requested.  

“I still think it’s an injustice to the citizens, paying $50,000 for it,” Hagins said during Thursday’s meeting, referring to how residents already have helped pay for the school through tax dollars. 

Despite his objection over this point, all council members directed Mendisco to draft a contract to acquire the school. 

In the worst-case scenario that the public does not approve the sales hike in November, Mendisco said the future community center would be forced to operate at a minimum level. That would mean sparse opening hours and limited services, he said. 

Council member Trevor Gann pointed out that if the sales tax fails, the town could always sell the property. 

Mendisco plans to finalize the contract to acquire the school in the next two to three weeks before bringing it before Town Council for approval.

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.

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