Our view: School board is listening | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: School board is listening

At issue

The Steamboat Springs School District is exploring the potential purchase of a 70-acre property in west Steamboat as a possible site for a new high school in what district planners have dubbed Option C2

Our view

The site meets most of the requirements outlined by both school board members and the community as essential to a school site, but more importantly, its consideration shows the board is listening to public input

We were gratified to learn this week that the Steamboat Springs School District has authorized Superintendent Brad Meeks to enter negotiations for the purchase of a soon-to-be-listed 70-acre tract at the western edge of city limits as a possible site for a new high school.

The authorization to negotiate for the parcel is part of what district planners have dubbed Option C2, which was unveiled Monday as the newest iteration of the district’s plan to accommodate increasing student enrollment. Option C2 would also postpone moving administration offices from their current location on Seventh Street to the existing high school, a move that would work to further increase school capacity.

These new developments come as encouraging news for several reasons.

First, and perhaps most obviously, the property in question — currently owned by Yampa Valley Electric Association — is, in many ways, a much better location for a new school than any other so far proposed, regardless of whether the district ultimately decides on a new high school or, instead, some configuration of a new elementary/middle school facility.

In either case, the YVEA property addresses the main concerns voiced by the community with regard to the other most likely site — a 35-acre tract the district already owns in Steamboat II.

At a May 12 facilities meeting, some residents said they favor funding construction of a new high school, but not on the Steamboat II site. Chief among their objections were location — the Steamboat II site lies outside city limits — and the potential for traffic hazards with inexperienced high school drivers negotiating an egress from the property to the often bustling U.S. Highway 40.

The YVEA parcel — located entirely within city limits — addresses both concerns. As Steamboat Springs City Council member Tony Connell noted during a briefing on the subject last week, the YVEA site — with its closer proximity to downtown — would enhance student safety and walkability to and from school and would place the new facility nearer existing transportation services.

Second, the YVEA site would either mitigate or outright eliminate many of the infrastructure concerns associated with the Steamboat II site, including transit issues, crossing control at the intersection of U.S. 40 and Routt County Road 42 and the possible need for water treatment plant and collection system upgrades.

And third, at 70-acres, the YVEA site is twice the size of the Steamboat II parcel, which would open possibilities for the construction of extensive athletic fields and facilities that could then be shared with the city’s parks department and other groups.

It should be noted that this entire discussion might easily be viewed as premature. The district is still considering all options, and several pieces — all with moving parts of their own — must be set into place before the first shovel hits the ground:

■ The district must decide which of the five options for facilities upgrades it wishes to pursue.

■ If the district opts to build a new school, it must decide on the best location for it.

■ Finally, it must secure funding for any of the proposed construction projects through a bond issue, which will require voter approval.

This last may well prove to be the most daunting challenge.

There can be little doubt the district needs more room to accommodate its increasing enrollment numbers; Steamboat is growing, and, as a result, it has outgrown its schools.

But historically, voters are wary of approving new tax issues without a clear explanation of why the funds are needed and a clearly delineated plan on how funds will be spent. As evidenced by the resounding 1995 defeat of a $41.8 million bond issue for construction of an earlier proposed new school, it is essential to gather strong community support before undertaking a bond-financed project that could come with a price tag in the neighborhood of $100 million.

Before opening their wallets, voters want assurances — assurances that the planned outlay of taxpayer dollars is truly in the best interest of students, assurances the plan not only provides for current needs, but also directs an intuitive eye toward the future, and assurances their views and concerns are actually earning a spot at the negotiating table.

The board’s introduction of Option C2 — in direct response to community concerns — demonstrates that members are indeed listening.

And more to the point, they’re hearing.

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