Our view: Hurry up and slow down
Making the right choice for school expansion
The Steamboat Springs School District is off to a good start with a variety of solutions presented by the project architect to address its need for more classrooms. But the chosen capital project will be built sooner if the district gently applies the brakes.
We were impressed with the creativity, wide range of options and flexibility evident in the options presented by architect Matt Porta this week to the Steamboat Springs School Board and about 30 members of the master planning committee for possible new schools and remodels of existing buildings.
We are optimistic that among the strategies presented by Porta there is a good solution to the school district’s challenge in catching up with what it describes as an expanding classroom shortage (go to SteamboatToday.com to read the April 8 article headlined: “District outlines facilities options.”)
However, the range of choices presented at last week’s public meeting only reinforce our conviction that this November is too soon to bring to voters a bond issue to fund new buildings and remodels. Although we aren’t oblivious to the challenges of floating a bond issue in a presidential election year in 2016, we are convinced that the school district will realize its goals sooner by slowing down the pace and not seeking the voters’ approval this fall.
Instead, we would urge district leaders to take the time for exhaustive public outreach and explaining all of the options and costs, over and over and over again, until there is broad community buy-in.
We say that for several reasons. One is that we’ve seen school bond issues in the past that failed at first and ultimately succeeded only after a broad selection of community leaders were brought into a lengthy study of the perceived need for a new high school, which they in turn promoted to their peers.
In 2015, the district has wisely assembled that citizens’ group already. We applaud it for having taken that step. But if anything, the process of choosing the right strategy could be more complicated this time than it was in the past.
The options include building a new elementary school without addressing the future of the middle and high schools. Or, we could build a new high school and make the current high school an expanded middle school with elementary schools that house preschools. Should we build a new school housing students from pre- kindergarten all the way to eighth grade? Or could the district purchase the Heritage Christian School and meet some of its needs with that building?
We think that the potential good of each of the five scenarios presented by the architect could warrant weeks, perhaps months, of study to fully evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. And that’s before a ballpark cost analysis is undertaken. The process of obtaining public understanding and buy-in could take longer than usual in this case.
There is much work to be done to make voters comfortable with revamping our school buildings. If the school board and members of the master planning committee listen closely, they’ll hear members of the pro-education community already questioning the pace at which things are proceeding. And there are those in the community who challenge whether the need for new classrooms has been clearly established.
There is also an understandable current of backlash in the community questioning how the district could be short of classrooms at the elementary school level five years after it started from scratch with a new Soda Creek Elementary School.
In fact, it was a poll that showed an overwhelming number of respondents wanted the new Soda Creek Elementary School on its existing, land-locked site in Old Town, and that led to only four new classrooms being included in the new school. But perception is reality, and the school district will have to overcome that in order to succeed.
Some of the new options for meeting the district’s space needs suggest acquisition of new sites. History tells us that the community is very sensitive on the issue of moving schools. People want to understand how new or remodeled schools at a cost of tens of millions of dollars will enhance the delivery of education to the community’s youngsters.
But taxpayers also have a touchy, feely side. They want to be seduced by some of the new technology and design qualities that would be included in schools.
It takes time and repetition for those things to take hold.
We initially editorialized against building the new Soda Creek School on the original site because of its limitations, but ultimately urged passage of the bond issue because that plan had been fully embraced by the public.
We want to support a thoughtful bond issue for new and remodeled schools that promises fiscal responsibility coupled with the most effective capital projects. And given time, that can happen.
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