Options, prices for Steamboat schools master plan to be presented to school board

Plans for addressing the overcrowding at Steamboat’s schools start with the Strawberry Park campus. (Photo by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Working together for more than a year, the Steamboat Springs School District Advisory Committee has narrowed down their proposals for addressing overcrowding in schools and those choices were outlined at the group’s meeting Monday night.

With a goal of pursuing a bond measure later this year, Superintendent Brad Meeks has emphasized the importance of public input throughout the process.

Three community forums were held in November and December, and the district conducted polls online and through the mail.

By the numbers

Preliminary cost estimates for Steamboat schools master plan:

• Identified needs in existing facilities: $127 million to $147 million
• New school facility (or two): $50 million to $120 million
• Total identified needs, excluding maintenance: $157 million to $267 million

Estimates for needs in existing schools include additions, renovations, safety improvements, furniture, fixtures and equipment, and site improvements:

• Steamboat Springs High School: $49.5 million to $60 million
• Steamboat Springs Middle School: $13 million to $18 million
• Soda Creek Elementary School: $11 million to $13 million
• Transportation: $10 million to $12 million
• Yampa Valley High School, Boys and Girls Club, Administration: $9 million to $11 million
• Strawberry Park Elementary School: $6 million to $12 million
• North Routt Community Charter School: $6 million to $8 million

Note: It is not typical that all identified needs make it into a bond program for school districts. The school board will determine the scope of a bond measure, and pricing will continue to be refined.

Common sentiments expressed at the forums were that future enrollment projections being used were too low and plans should be looking at least 20 years into the future — not just five or 10. Some of the “hot button” issues were related to class size, traffic congestion, safety, programming and vocational training. The use of modular buildings was disliked by most of those participating in the forums.

A new demographics study is expected at the end of March and will be key to the process, especially given new housing developments planned or underway.

Cost of construction is going up at a rate of about 15 percent every year, the district’s consultants said. Meeks pointed to bonds for comparable projects in surrounding districts that showed building costs more than doubling over about five years.

The current price estimates, Meeks said, will ideally go down as they further refine the plan.

Among four proposals to address the problem of over-capacity schools, 28 members of the committee voted in significant majority for two options.

Option “A” adds pre-kindergarten to Soda Creek and Strawberry Park elementary schools and constructs a new pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school elsewhere.

Option “C” adds pre-kindergarten to Soda Creek Elementary School, converts the entire Strawberry Park campus to a sixth through eighth grade middle school and constructs one or two new pre-kindergarten through fifth grade elementary schools elsewhere.

The potential sites for new schools are the properties currently owned by the district designated as Whistler (9.2 acres), Steamboat II (35.15 acres) and 12 acres within the planned Brynn Grey housing development. There is also the Barber family property, which is adjacent to Steamboat II and would add another 35 acres.

Meeks said the closing on the Barber property has been pushed to June so more environmental assessments can be made when the snow melts. The board approved entering a contract to purchase the property in November at an initial offer of $1.5 million.

In 2015, the vision set forth in a $92 million bond issue was to construct a new high school, convert the old high school to a middle school and convert the middle school to an elementary school. The issue was overwhelmingly rejected by voters.

Meeks attributes the failure, in part, to the unpopularity of the idea of moving the high school. He also points to a process some felt was too rushed.

At Monday’s meeting, school leaders also outlined top priorities for projects needed at existing facilities.

Some of the projects would change depending on the larger scope of the plan chosen, but many were identified as priority needs regardless.

At Strawberry Park Elementary, Principal Tracy Stoddard talked about the need for cafeteria space, as they currently use the gymnasium and eat in shifts that end as late as 2 p.m. in order to accommodate all students.

Other school leaders detailed needs for more classrooms and common areas, as well as needed upgrades to science labs, athletic facilities and arts and music areas.

Without room for all their buses, a project was proposed to add a fully enclosed and heated bus garage.

Safety needs include improved security at entrances, additional fire sprinkler systems, a fire loop access around the middle school and improvements to drainage, bus lanes, and emergency alert systems.

The school board will be updated on the Advisory Committee’s progress at the board’s Feb. 11 meeting.

More community input will be sought through another series of forums and surveys.

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email or follow her on Twitter @KariHarden.

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