Our View: School Board needs focus groups | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: School Board needs focus groups

The Steamboat Springs School Board should consider using focus groups to gather public input on replacing Soda Creek Elementary School.

The board tried holding public meetings last fall on its facilities. Problem was, no one showed up and the board canceled most of the 13 hearings. Still, on Monday night, the board decided it needed to try again.

We don’t think public hearings will work — attendance likely won’t be any better than last fall. Rather, the board should invite specific community focus groups — parents, educators, retirees and city and county officials, for example — to provide input at separate meetings. Of course, those meetings would be open to the public.

Make no doubt — Soda Creek Elementary School is in substandard condition and needs to be replaced. Thus, these focus group meetings need to happen right away so that the board can develop a plan to take before voters in November.

On Monday, the board heard a presentation from a consultant on options for Soda Creek. Those options include tearing down the school and constructing a new one at the present site; constructing a new school off Whistler Road; remodeling and adding on to the existing school; or leaving the school as is.

Given the structural problems at Soda Creek, doing nothing is unacceptable. Remodeling and expanding the school also seems an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars. And there are real problems with tearing down the Soda Creek site and rebuilding there at a preliminary cost of $18.2 million.

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If you build Soda Creek at the current site, then a temporary home — for at least one and probably two school years — would have to be found for the Soda Creek students. Someone suggested creating a temporary facility at the high school, but putting elementary students in such close proximity to high school students seems a bad idea. Also, we question whether the current Soda Creek site is the right one for a modern elementary school, given the traffic and parking issues there.

Rather, this is an opportunity for the school district to put some distance between its two elementary schools. As it stands, Strawberry Park and Soda Creek are within a mile of each other, meaning there are no sensible geographic boundaries to our school attendance zones.

That leaves building on school district property near Whistler Road on the east side of town at an estimated cost of $16.9 million. The good thing about building off site is that the existing Soda Creek property — an attractive downtown parcel — could be sold to help pay for the new school.

But is the Whistler property really the right place for an elementary school? We suggest, as School Board member Jeff Troeger did Monday, that the district look west for a possible school site.

The growth in family housing is occurring — and will continue to occur — to the west of the city. Four of the community’s largest subdivisions — Steamboat II, Heritage Park, Silver Spur and West End Village — are on the west side. And the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan encourages future housing in this direction.

Selling Soda Creek Elementary and leveraging those funds to help pay for an elementary school to the west of town seems to be the most cost effective and logical approach. Consider that our focus group’s input. Now, the School Board can get busy listening to what other groups have to say so that it can formulate a plan to deal with this pressing community problem.