Rec, after-school facilities most popular ideas for reusing Hayden school, survey says
Operating costs would require 1% sales tax hike
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A recreation facility and an after-school program were the two most popular options Hayden residents listed for reusing and preserving part of the soon-to-be-vacant secondary school, according to a recent survey.
On Friday, the town hosted the first reuse study meeting inside the Hayden High School gymnasium, one of the spaces up for preservation, to give the public an opportunity to learn about the proposed project and gain more feedback.
Of the 370 people who responded to the online survey before the meeting, about 85% said they support saving the gymnasium and auditorium of the school. Twenty-two people, or about 6% of respondents, said they do not support the preservation project.
By fall 2020, all students within the Hayden School District are scheduled to relocate to a new, K-12 facility. A $38.8 million BEST grant from the state of Colorado is funding the majority of the new school. The grant requires the old Hayden High School to be demolished unless a public entity, in this case the town of Hayden, opts to purchase or operate it, according to previous reporting from Steamboat Pilot & Today.
A pervading concern is an increase in sales tax the town would propose levying to maintain the space. According to Hayden Town Manager Mathew Mendisco, the sales tax rate would have to increase from 4% to 5% to cover those costs. Discussion of the increase was a common topic during Friday’s meeting as Mendisco showed attendees floor plans of the school and what type of facilities it could provide.
“The majority of people were very understanding and also very in favor (of the tax increase),” he said.
One resident, Mary Graham, is among those who disapproves of saving the school. She attended Friday’s meeting but balked at the anticipated sales tax hike.
“I already paid taxes for the new school. I paid taxes for the old school. I don’t want to have to pay taxes to reuse it,” she said.
Mendisco acknowledged the concern, but he sees a sales tax as the fairest way to pay for operating the building if the town takes it over. He and other town officials have shied away from proposing a property tax because residents have seen an increase of about 30 mills in the last two years, according to Mendisco.
Reusing the gymnasium and auditorium also requires funding for renovations. Mendisco estimates the cost of fixing and repurposing the 70,000 square feet slated for preservation could cost $3 million to $3.5 million.
That number is based on a 2015 school assessment report from the Colorado Department of Education, which found that fixing the entire school, not just the gym and auditorium, would cost a little more than $15 million. It also accounts for projected increases in construction costs and is about $1 million more than Mendisco originally anticipated.
To pay for those fixes, he has applied for over $1 million in grant funds and, after receiving such strong community support, plans to apply for more in the future.
The Colorado Center for Community Development has been assisting Hayden officials with the reuse study. Germaine Low, a research assistant with the organization, said the majority of residents want the preserved space to be community-centered. Many are wary of adding for-profit services like health care facilities or a coffee shop.
“They worry it would compete with other businesses in the area providing those services,” Low said.
Residents also see the 375-seat auditorium as a way to host more arts and entertainment events in Hayden, which could attract visitors.
Mendisco emphasized that while Hayden Town Council members are supportive of the preservation project, they have made no formal action to purchase the school from the Hayden School District.
“This is not set in stone yet by any means,” he said.
Mendisco is optimistic about receiving grant funding for the repairs and construction, owing to success in securing grants for other projects. Over the last three years, the town has been awarded almost $2.3 million worth of grants, according to Mendisco.
The next step for the school reuse study is to conduct a professional analysis of the building to get a more accurate estimate for construction costs. That analysis is scheduled for this week.
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