Steamboat Springs City Council opposes school district’s $92 million bond proposal
Steamboat Springs — Fearing a new high school on the west side of town could force the city to spend millions to improve nearby roads, the Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday night voted unanimously to oppose the Steamboat Springs School District’s $92 million school bond issue.
Council members suggested the school district has not done enough to plan and budget for its share of the road improvements associated with the proposed bond issue before the Nov. 3 vote.
Because of this, council members said they felt they had a “fiduciary” responsibility to tell voters they do not support the proposal.
City staff told the council the financial impact to the city from a new high school in West Steamboat could total as much as $6 million to $8 million.
“I’m just shocked at the (financial) exposure we could have if this passes,” Council President Bart Kounovsky said. “We all know there’s going to be a big impact on those neighborhoods and in that area.”
Council members said if the bond passes, the city would likely be forced to invest in intersections such as Downhill Drive and U.S. Highway 40 quickly because of the added traffic that would be created by the new school.
Plans to improve the nearby city intersections are currently sitting on a list of parked capital projects that don’t have funding.
The council’s vote against the bond came as a complete surprise to Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Brad Meeks, who was not invited to the council meeting or made aware of the discussions.
Meeks said he thought the city, the school district and the Colorado Department of Transportation recently had a productive meeting about the district’s plans and the financial contributions it is planning to make toward improvements.
“It’s disappointing this was handled this way,” Meeks said of the council’s vote. “We’re prepared to sit down with the city and have a conversation about what the needs are. We’re committed to making it work. We know we have to contribute.”
He said the school district asked the city about the possibility of contributing more than its required share toward the intersection improvements. The district could then be credited back as other developers moved into the area and contributed.
Public Works Director Chuck Anderson told the council the overall financial impact to the city from the high school was still unknown because a fresh traffic study was not completed in the area.
Councilman Kenny Reisman said he could not support the bond issue without knowing what the financial impact of the new high school would be.
“It strikes me we’re in a spot where I kind of feel like my responsibility here is to make a statement about my concern for this,” Reisman said.
Councilman Tony Connell noted he had three children in the school district, but the concerns he had about the potential financial impact to the city led him to oppose the bond proposal.
The district’s bond package includes a $2 million budget for the high school site that would be dedicated to intersection improvements, standard development costs such as permits and fees, utility extensions and other traffic improvements.
Estimating the impact
To help gauge how much money to earmark in the bond for intersection improvements near the Overlook site, the school district looked at what financial contributions the developers of Overlook Park would have had to make had their 140-lot residential development been realized at the same site.
Based on a traffic study done in 2009, the Overlook developers were planning to pay about $480,000 toward future improvements at the intersections of Downhill Drive and U.S. 40 and Elk River Road and U.S. 40.
The district anticipates the overall traffic impact of a new high school will be similar or less than what that residential development at the same site would have created.
City officials see it differently.
Anderson said the city estimates the traffic impact will be greater than the previously proposed residential development.
He added the city advised the district not to budget based on that 2009 traffic study.
“There’s a fiduciary duty as a council member to point out this (bond proposal) is lacking some dollars,” councilman Walter Magill said.
Reacting to the council’s vote on a news post on Facebook, former Steamboat Springs Superintendent Shalee Cunningham also expressed disappointment.
“This is a shocking lack of collaboration in such a small, tight-knit community that prides itself in excellent schools!,” Cunningham wrote. “So disappointing.”
Both city officials and school district officials faulted one another Tuesday for not reaching out to one another earlier in the process to discuss the traffic impacts of the new high school.
Anderson said he wished the city had been invited to more district meetings.
Meeks said the school district would have had its staff and engineer available to answer questions and discuss concerns if the district had been invited to Tuesday’s meeting.
The presentation that Anderson gave to the council was not available prior to Tuesday’s council meeting.
Meeks said he plans to reach out to Interim City Manager Gary Suiter on Wednesday to talk about the issues and how they can be resolved.
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