Our View: Proceed with caution
Steamboat school board members directed district leaders to proceed with a $79.5 million bond package that will include construction of a new preschool through eighth-grade school at Steamboat II plus upgrades to all of the district’s existing properties. The new school is projected to cost $52.5 million, and $27 million is the estimated cost for the upgrades to current campuses.
We realize a lot of study and community input has preceded this decision, but we wonder if the school board is considering what voters will realistically support at the polls in November. With property assessments increasing by 15 percent and several other taxing measures headed to the ballot this fall, including two other district-related issues, we’re asking the board to reconsider pursuing construction of a new school at this time, and instead, go to voters with a smaller ask.
First, let us state that we value the dedication of the district’s faculty, staff, administration and school board. We realize educators are faced with big challenges on a daily basis. They have to be almost “all things” to students — a daycare center, a provider of meals, a recreation center — and they can best do their jobs and help students succeed if they have the space and resources they need.
But at this juncture, where the need for an additional school is based on longer-term, still uncertain demographic projections, we think the board would be wise to pull back on the reins and consider asking voters to support a smaller bond issue based on proven need, and then, in a year or two, assuming enrollment growth matches current projections, pursue another bond issue to build the proposed new school.
Several housing projects on the west side of Steamboat are just getting off the ground, and a new housing supply will be coming on board at a reasonable pace over the next five to 10 years. There is time to wait for this housing growth to occur organically and then build a right-sized school that fits that growth.
The Hayden School District is also in the process of building a new state-of-the-art school, which could attract new students or serve as a reason for Hayden students to remain in their local district. This would mean the number of out-of-district students served by the Steamboat school system could decrease.
And let’s not forget that there’s also always the possibility of another recession, which unlike the last downturn, could result in a reduction in the student population and the need for classroom expansion.
At issue: The Steamboat Springs Board of Education voted June 18 to move forward with a $79.5 million bond issue.
Our View: The school board needs to hit the brakes and consider a smaller bond issue that will take care of immediate needs at existing campuses.
- Logan Molen, publisher
- Lisa Schlichtman, editor
- Robin Stone, community representative
- Steve Hofman, community representative
Steamboat Springs is the kind of community that almost always rallies together to support worthy, well-defined causes, and we think voters would be willing to tax themselves to support projects to shore up and expand existing facilities. These projects, as outlined by the board, would include:
• A 9,000-square-foot addition to the high school
• A 4,000-square-foot addition to the middle school that would house a science classroom, kitchen and dining space and a new turf on the track to provide a secondary practice field for high school sports teams
• Additional classrooms at Soda Creek Elementary School to move students from four modular buildings to permanent classrooms as well as providing space for preschool classes
• A cafeteria addition and the addition of new preschool classrooms at Strawberry Park Elementary School
• The addition of a security vestibule and common space plus bathroom improvements at Yampa Valley High School
• A multi-purpose space and restroom additions at North Routt Charter Community School
• Updates at the Boys and Girls Club plus renewable energy upgrades
We’re not denying the district has grown. Enrollment has increased from 1,522 in 1986 to 2,516 in 2015 but we believe improving existing facilities would go a long way toward solving some of the district’s logistical and capacity dilemmas, and by postponing construction of a new school for a couple of years, the board would be earning political goodwill and cementing the case for a larger bond issue later assuming demographic projections become real numbers.
The school board still has time to reconsider. It is not slated to make a final decision on the ballot language until its August meeting. At this juncture, we don’t think the district has time to sell the public on the larger $79.5 million bond issue but we do think a smaller ask, addressing a valid list of necessary improvements, would have a good chance for passage at the polls come November.
Ultimately, we think the school board would better serve the community by going after what they know voters are far more likely to approve rather than risking it all by pursuing a large $79.5 million bond issue.
There’s also still time for the public to weigh in. The board will continue bond issue discussions at its July 22 work session, which is scheduled for 4 p.m. at Bud Werner Memorial Library.
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The Longevity Project: Part three of a four-part series