Site out of mind |

Site out of mind

District faces hurdles with temporary school location

Melinda Mawdsley

Steamboat Springs School District officials are working to devise a plan to convert the George P. Sauer Human Services Center into a makeshift school for more than 300 elementary students. Soda Creek Elementary School staff and students will occupy the building until the new elementary school, supported by a $29.7 million bond, is built.

— Four weeks after Steamboat Springs School District voters supported a $29.7 million bond issue to build a new Soda Creek Elementary School, district officials are grappling with how to convert the aging, disjointed George P. Sauer Human Services Center into a makeshift school for more than 300 elementary students.

District officials had little choice but to make the sprawling Human Services Center campus into a temporary location for Soda Creek staff and students while the new school is built. And those officials acknowledge that there are far more questions than answers when it comes to how to convert the Human Services Center into a school and for how long the Seventh Street structure will need to serve that purpose.

“It will be an issue and a concern until we get finalized plans,” Superintendent Donna Howell said. “We are in the process of getting ideas. This will be an opportunity for us to use a collection of creative ideas from staff, parents and architects to make this as best a temporary facility as possible.”

The district is hosting a community forum at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Human Services Center, and Steamboat residents are encouraged to bring questions, suggestions and ideas about plans for the new Soda Creek school and the temporary site located just a few blocks away in Old Town Steamboat Springs.

Parents and community mem

bers with questions about Strawberry Park Elementary School, which will be renovated and expanded as part of the school construction project, also are welcome to attend Thursday’s forum.

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An architect from Christian-

sen, Reece and Partners is expected to attend the forum.

“The biggest thing is to encourage people to come to the community forum so that we can find out what their questions are and address those,” said Rick Denney, the district’s director of facilities.

A Soda Creek Leadership Team made up of staff members has begun a list of needs for the transition from the old elementary school site to the Human Services Center.

“From that list we are generating plans to look at educational needs, social needs, emotional needs, and certainly parent needs : and how we are going to address those needs,” Soda Creek Principal Judy Harris said.

To start, Harris and Howell are going to recommend to the Steamboat Springs School Board that demolition of Soda Creek not begin until the 2006-07 school year ends.

Initially, architects had suggested moving students during April’s spring break so they could take advantage of an extra month of warm weather. The hope was to have Soda Creek finished before the start of the 2008-09 school year.

But the extra month gained by moving students to the Human Services Center in April won’t guarantee Soda Creek will be done by fall 2008, Howell said. She and Harris said they want to minimize the number of school years impacted by Soda Creek’s construction.

If the School Board agrees with Howell and Harris, Soda Creek students and staff won’t be transitioned to the Human Services Center until next fall. The delay in moving the students also will give district officials and architects additional time to transform the Human Services Center into a suitable school facility, officials said.

They may need that extra time.

Site limitations

On Nov. 17, a state building inspector toured the three-story brick building – often referred to as the Old Junior High – that is part of the Human Services Center. The inspector did not have good news for district officials.

“It cannot house students,” Howell said.

But the three-story brick building is suitable for adults, so the district’s central offices may be temporarily relocated to the Old Junior High. Such a move would free up the space currently occupied by those offices for classrooms and other student learning areas.

That is just one of a growing list of ideas that will be thrown around as district officials and architects try to find a way to maximize the limited space at the Seventh Street location.

Three things are certain, Howell said.

First, meeting students’ educational needs and ensuring their safety are district priorities, she said.

Second, modulars will be used. The makeshift classrooms will be located on the grass field adjacent to the Human Services Center. How many modulars the district can get its hands on remains unclear.

“The first estimate was 16,” Howell said. “If we can have more, that’s great. The modulars will be key.”

Third, the Steamboat Gymnastics Center will have to move. The Steamboat Gymnastics Center is in the large gymnasium in the rear of the Human Services Center campus off Eighth Street.

“We will need that gym for a cafeteria,” Howell said. “That’s the most logical place to feed kids.”

Steamboat Gymnastics Cen-

ter owner Dan Atkins knew he’d lose his $2,800-a-month leased space when the district didn’t renew the agreement in June. And last month’s passage of Referendum 3D effectively ended his time at the Eighth Street location.

Initially, Atkins was told he would have until April 1 to move out. But district officials recently approached Atkins and told him he may have to move his gymnastics center sooner if the state orders the district to upgrade the building.

“I’m just hoping for April,” said Atkins, whose two youngest children attend Soda Creek. “There are a lot of cards that have been dealt to me. I’ll handle it. Unfortunately, I don’t know what the next one off the deck coming at me is.”

About 350 children attend gymnastics classes every week during the fall and winter, Atkins said.

Other users, hurdles

But the Steamboat Gymnastics Center and the school district aren’t the only users of the Seventh Street location.

Lowell Whiteman Primary School uses the grassy area for recess and physical education. If modulars are put on that field, as expected, no recreation can take place there.

The offices of the Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services, the Yampa Valley High School – an alternative school for Routt County students, and Stepping Stones also are housed in the Human Services Center complex.

The space commitment to the Yampa Valley High School was for only one year, but the district has an obligation to keep Stepping Stones running because it is a district program, Howell said.

Even when the district resolves these issues, it then must turn its attention to addressing on-site parking, student drop-off and pick up, a recess location and how best to offer a computer lab and library.

The district initially considered moving Soda Creek students to Strawberry Park Elementary School during the construction period, but Strawberry Park has no additional space, which is why the district is expanding that school, too.

The district also looked at the old Ace Hardware location west of town, but there were too many changes that needed to be made to make the building into a temporary school, Howell said.

The estimated cost of converting the Human Services Center campus into a temporary school is $950,000, which includes modular classrooms. The cost was factored into the $29.7 million bond passed by voters last month, officials said.

And after all the hurdles are cleared and school begins in a temporary location next fall, more issues likely will arise. But Harris vows to remain positive.

“We look at this as what do we need to do and how do we get there,” Harris said. “We are a ‘can do’ group of people. We take challenges and figure out how to positively meet those challenges. : I do want the community to know it’s important to start identifying what all the needs are, but we can’t answer all those questions right now.”