Steamboat district seeks public input on solutions for over-capacity schools | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat district seeks public input on solutions for over-capacity schools

School buses leave the Strawberry Park Elementary School and Steamboat Springs Middle School campuses. (Photo by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Steamboat Springs School District is seeking input from the community on how to proceed with phase two of plans to address schools that are either at or over capacity. The first of three public forums to discuss solutions will be held Tuesday.

"We want you to tell us what you want to do," said Superintendent Brad Meeks.

Steamboat is growing, and all signs point to continued growth, he said.

If you go

Steamboat Springs School District community forums:
• 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, Steamboat Springs High School, 45 Maple St.
• 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, Steamboat Springs High School
• 9 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, Soda Creek Elementary School, 220 Park Ave.

The district’s enrollment for the 2018-19 school year stands at 2,640, and according to Meeks, enrollment has grown by 24 percent during the past 10 years.

The high school is at 97 percent capacity, and the middle school is at 98 percent capacity. The elementary schools are over capacity at 113 percent.

Looking ahead, Meeks said he is using conservative estimates to project future growth. In recent years, there has been slight relief at the elementary school level with a lower birth rate and the 2016 opening of Mountain Village Montessori.

The number of students attending from outside the district accounts for less than 5 percent of the total enrollment.

However, one factor Meeks knows will have significant impact on student numbers is any growth in the housing market, and several projects are already in the works.

At the new 48-unit Reserves at Steamboat, Meeks said, there are 250 families on the wait list.

"We have to get ahead of the housing construction," he said.

At a glance

Based on nearly a year of committee and focus group meetings, the Steamboat Springs School District has come up with the following scenarios related to the Strawberry Park campus:

1. Add pre-kindergarten and continue to serve grade levels K-8
New project: Build a pre-kindergarten to eighth-grade school elsewhere

2. Add pre-kindergarten and continue to serve grade levels K-8
New projects: Build a fifth- through eighth-grade middle school elsewhere; convert Soda Creek Elementary to a pre-kindergarten to fourth-grade facility

3. Convert to a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school
New project: Build a pre-kindergarten to fifth-grade elementary school elsewhere

4. Convert to a fifth- through eighth-grade middle school
New projects: Build a pre-kindergarten to fourth-grade elementary school elsewhere; convert Soda Creek Elementary to a pre-kindergarten to fourth-grade facility

And growth is unpredictable.

Over the winter break during the 2016-17 school year, 54 new students from 13 states and five countries enrolled. At the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, a surprising 200 new students enrolled.

The Steamboat Springs School District Advisory Committee, made up of 32 community volunteers, has been meeting for the past 10 months to figure out how best to plan for continued enrollment growth. The group started out with 16 scenarios and have now narrowed that down to four.

It all begins with the Strawberry Park Middle School and Elementary School campus, where the greatest needs are currently, Meeks said. Even after adding four classrooms to the middle school during the summer, the campus is still the most congested, holding hundreds of students more than what it was originally designed to serve.

All proposed scenarios involve some upgrades and modifications to the existing campus and the construction of a new school.

And, in terms of building a new facility, there needs to be flexibility built into the design, Meeks said.

"We want to make sure the new school has the capability to serve whatever grade level is needed — except high school," Meeks said.

The high school will not be moved, he said, to adhere to a request strongly emphasized by the community.

And Meeks points out that phase two planning is not an “end.”

If Steamboat continues to grow, there will likely be a phase three plan in another decade or so.

In addition to the community forums, the district is gathering public input through a mailed survey, which will be available online after Thanksgiving.

As the district gathers feedback, gets cost estimates and finalizes designs, the goal is to pursue a bond issue in 2019, break ground in 2020 and open a new school in 2021.

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @KariHarden.

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