Whistler school site faces opposition from neighbors | SteamboatToday.com

Whistler school site faces opposition from neighbors

A preliminary rendering of the potential Whistler school site shows potential access routes and a school design, if property is purchased from the Mount Werner Water District. None of these plans are confirmed.
courtesy Steamboat Springs School District

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — About 120 people packed every seat and square foot of a room at Rex’s Bar and Grill on Wednesday to discuss the possibility of building a new school in the nearby Whistler neighborhood.

The vast majority were opposed to the proposal.

As the Steamboat Springs School District works to address facilities that are at or over overcapacity, the other site the board of education is considering is in the Steamboat II neighborhood.

Over the course of two hours, including a presentation by Superintendent Brad Meeks, neighbors cited concerns around traffic, wildlife, the size of the site and the impact to the city-owned park.

“I’m not here to persuade you on the Whistler site over the Steamboat II site,” Meeks said.

Rather, the meeting was an opportunity to present accurate information, share comments and concerns and answer questions, he explained.

People questioned bringing “300 plus cars a day” into the neighborhood, and the impacts of early morning snow removal.

Much debate revolved around demographics — where the population dictates the greatest need for a new school and whether the district needs a new school at all.

There also was debate about whether Steamboat is taking too many kids from out of district and whether that is the reason for overcrowding. Meeks said there are about 120 kids from out of district — less than 5% of total enrollment and a lower percentage than many comparable districts.

Asked about how many school-aged children live within one mile of the two sites, Colleen Kaneda, project manager of NV5, the district’s building consultant, reported there are 376 around Whistler and 256 around Steamboat II.

If you go

The Steamboat Springs School District has scheduled the following community meetings to discuss potential bond packages. More information will be forthcoming.

Board of Education community forum
6:30 p.m. April 29 at Soda Creek Elementary School, 220 Park Ave.

District-wide parent, grandparent and volunteer meetings
11:30 a.m. May 2 at Bud Werner Memorial Library, 1289 Lincoln Ave.

Steamboat II neighbors meeting
6:30 p.m. May 2 at Anchor Way Church, 40650 Anchor Way

Board of Education community forum
8:30 a.m. May 6 at Bud Werner Memorial Library, 1289 Lincoln Ave.

Board of Education community forum
9 a.m. May 11 at Soda Creek Elementary School, 220 Park Ave.

Another big concern was what impact the school would have on private property.

There has been “a little bit of property line creep over 40 years,” Meeks said. According to a recent survey, there are some storage sheds, decks, fire pits and portions of driveway that crept onto district property but “not anything we can’t work with,” Meeks said.

On whether eminent domain would be used to seize homes, Director of Maintenance Operations and Transportation Pascal Ginesta said he was “pretty confident” the district would not take any homes. Several board members in attendance said they would not vote for a site if homes had to be taken.

A school would require two access points, and Ginesta described several options for new roads. They include connecting to U.S. Highway 40 via a bridge and an extension of either Meadow Lane, Park Court or Stone Lane. The Stone Lane bridge has been part of the city’s capital improvement plans for years, Meeks noted. Another option does not connect to U.S. 40 but uses Park Court and Meadow Lane as the two access points.

Any changes to the city-owned Whistler Park, such as an easement or moving the playground, would have to go to a public vote.

“We are trying to maximize green space,” Meeks said in terms of the district-owned piece of property. “The last thing we want to do is eliminate green space.”

He pointed to the current lack of sufficient practice fields for athletic teams.

The 9.2 acres has been owned by the school district for 40 years.

“It’s been open space for 40 years, and people get comfortable with that,” Meeks said after the meeting. “And it would change if a school comes there.”

Many argued the Steamboat II site is better suited in terms of size and location and has much more room to expand — both for facilities and athletic fields. By June, the Steamboat II site will comprise 70 acres.

Meeks said one of the biggest difference between the two sites was that Whistler has existing access to utilities including water and sewer. He said Steamboat II would cost $500,000 more to develop, according to preliminary estimates.

On one hand, district officials said they are still in an exploratory phase and gathering input. A new, much-anticipated demographics report and traffic study are expected to be completed around May 1.

On the other hand, the board has set a May 20 deadline to make decisions on both the site and grade configuration of the new school. Many in the audience expressed frustration that the district didn’t have all the answers at this time and said they felt the process was being rushed.

The board has until August to come up with the precise language and costs to place a bond issue on the November ballot.

Near the end of the meeting, someone asked the crowded room for a “straw poll.” Fewer than five people raised their hands in support of the Whistler list.

In a recent scientific survey conducted at the end of March, which polled 171 active voters, 49% of respondents preferred Steamboat II as a location for a new school while 32% percent preferred Whistler.

Meeks said he hasn’t heard much from those living in the area of Steamboat II and looks forward to that neighborhood meeting May 2.

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

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