The state of Soroco: Utilizing infrastructure | SteamboatToday.com

The state of Soroco: Utilizing infrastructure

Oak Creek community, schools could support larger population

Teresa Ristow

Physical education teacher Artie Weber teaches the basics of basketball inside the South Routt Elementary School gymnasium. Small class sizes mean the students have plenty of room to sharpen their skills.

— Some of Steamboat's southern neighbors were frustrated earlier this year when the Steamboat Springs School District publicized its need for a new school to support enrollment population growth in the city.

The nearly 80 students living within South Routt School District boundaries but attending Steamboat schools have left empty space in the district, which could house another 100 to 150 students with the addition of only a few teachers.

"Here, we have the resources to absorb a lot of kids," said Jules Palyo, South Routt Board of Education president.

Elementary class sizes this year contain as few as 13 students, while some high school specials classes are taught to only a few kids, grossly underutilizing the funds spent on teaching staff and classrooms built to house more than 20 or 25 students at a time.

"As a taxpayer in Routt County, it was frustrating to have people talk about spending $92 million," said Tim Corrigan, a Routt County commissioner who wrapped up 12 years on South Routt’s Board of Education this week.

It’s Corrigan’s hope that residents countywide will take note of the available infrastructure in both South Routt schools and the community of Oak Creek when considering decisions that shape the future of Routt County.

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Corrigan said that, while a perception exists that Steamboat will continue to develop subdivisions outside its western edge, a more logical place for growth might be in the walkable, existing community of Oak Creek.

A drive from City Market to Oak Creek is only a few minutes longer on a good day than a commute from the same part of town to Steamboat II, Corrigan and Palyo contend.

"It's just a matter of a few minutes really. It makes sense," Palyo said.

Oak Creek officials agree it's more logical to develop their community.

"It makes more sense to use the infrastructure that you already have to provide for the needs that have been identified by the community," said Mary Alice Page-Allen, town administrator for Oak Creek and former senior planner for Routt County and manager of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority. "You should build out what you already have before you start endeavoring to add more areas to the community."

Page-Allen said Oak Creek is ready from a utilities infrastructure standpoint to take on a large development of single-family homes or multi-family housing and that Oak Creek's Board of Trustees and the Oak Creek Planning Commission are nearing completion of an update to the town's comprehensive plan that strategizes for expected growth of about 50 percent through the next 15 years, an increase from about 900 to 1,350 residents.

Town officials are also hopeful more commercial growth will occur, creating jobs and decreasing the number of residents who commute outside of town for employment, often bringing along their children to attend school outside South Routt.

Statistics from Yampa Valley Data Partners show that in 2013, about 88 percent of employed residents living in and near Oak Creek traveled outside the area for work.

If development does occur in South Routt, it could alleviate worsening enrollment problems for the South Routt School District, provided the students attend the district they’re assigned to, according to South Routt School District Superintendent Darci Mohr.

"I believe absolutely it would (help), and I believe that's what the town of Oak Creek has been driving towards," Mohr said.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow