Our View: School board should avoid rush to polls

— The hiring of a pre-bond engineer by the Steamboat Springs School Board a week ago Monday could set the stage for a bond issue election in November. Although the process is in the preliminary stages, discussion by school board members at their most recent meeting leads us to believe the district is eyeing the possibility of asking voters to approve a building plan as soon as next fall.

We do not dispute the need for a third elementary school and other facility upgrades based on Steamboat’s growing enrollment numbers, and we think hiring an engineer to establish the groundwork for a bond issue election was prudent. But with that said, we urge the board to take their time and avoid a rush to the polls.

In 2006, district voters approved a $29.7 million bond issue to replace the aging Soda Creek Elementary with a new school and expand Strawberry Park Elementary School to add classrooms. Now, only six and a half years after the new Soda Creek school opened its doors, the district again is faced with the prospect of constructing a third elementary or finding ways to expand its existing campuses.

A demographer’s report presented to the board in August revealed the district’s two elementary schools are already over capacity and the middle school is nearing capacity. The hiring of Windsor-based RLH Engineering last week was the board’s first step toward assessing the need for more space and moving forward with a plan to fix the problem.

As School Board President Roger Good stated, the district has a lot of work to do between now and August to get a bond issue placed on the Nov. 3 ballot, and we question whether seven months is enough time to properly study the issue, compile research to support the need and make the case necessary to produce a successful public vote.

Although modulars are not a long-term solution, they can function well enough to buy the district the time needed to come up with a comprehensive plan that the voters can support. By slowing down the process and not rushing to place a bond issue on the ballot, district leaders would have the opportunity to use their new strategic plan as the framework for laying out the long-range building plans for all of its campuses.

If the school board moves too quickly toward a vote, it risks losing the election, which would be costly in terms of political capital and further delays in providing needed classroom space.

Taking the temperature of the public before picking the location for a new elementary school also will be an essential step the district needs to take if that’s the direction it goes. We’re not ready to endorse a site, but instead, we encourage a thorough evaluation of each possible site that takes into consideration Steamboat’s future areas of growth. Once that information is gathered, it will be important for the district to share it openly with the public and gather citizen input and support before choosing a site.

We were encouraged when the newly hired engineer told the board he would begin the planning process by holding a community meeting in the coming weeks. Using history as a guide, community buy-in is necessary to get a large capital bond issue passed in Steamboat Springs, and sometimes, it takes a little time to gain the public’s trust.

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