SAGUACHE — At the Saguache Town Board meeting Monday, former mayor Greg Terrell addressed the mayor and trustees, reading from a letter that cited the failure of Mountain Valley School officials to work more closely with the town in constructing the new school.
Terrell lists several areas of concern in his letter, the first being road damage. He points out that according to Federal Highway Administration studies, the heavily loaded trucks that must bring fill and other materials in for the new school will cause wear and tear on the town’s roads, reducing their lifespan from 20 years to seven. The 55 construction workers who will participate in the school construction “won’t even be locals,” he said.
Fill materials must be added to the site to shore it up for building and divert surface water away from the school. “Where will this water go?” Terrell asked. Typically, the water will run off onto the road and into other properties, he said, yet the school did not consult the town regarding storm drains, ditches or the cost of road repairs. Drains or ditches may need to be incorporated and this is within the domain of the town.
Building height is another concern; the new school will abut a town right-of way and trees are planned for planting within the right-of-way. Originally, many thought, the school was considering a one-story design. But the Design Advisory Group, comprised of school district members, approved a two-story (7.2 meters high) design. A solar study by school architects shows this will leave “Pitkin Avenue from between Third and Fourth Street in the shade all day most of the winter. Second street from Pitkin south a half block will ensure ice on these streets for prolonged periods.”
The result would mean more pavement damage and higher heating bills for residents, many of them seniors. And in the summer the building design will cause glare onto the street. Terrell suggested the town and school consult about possible setbacks for the property.
School architects have admitted they did not consider traffic safety when designing the main entrance for the school at the intersection of Pitkin Avenue and Second Street, Terrell notes. This may involve the addition and removal of stop signs and will affect speed limit considerations, also street parking. These areas are controlled by the town board.
Considering the town’s current sewer and water supply projects, Terrell observed, coordination between town and school is critical. This will involve relocation of fire hydrants and adequate water supply lines, a cost to the town. It also affects homeowners’ insurance rates. The school must also align its design to accommodate the town’s 2011 Source Water Protection Plan. Finally, Terrell mourned the projected loss of Saguache’s prized “dark skies” once lights from the school’s well-lit parking lot are installed.
Saguache is one of the one percent of towns in the U.S. considered to still possess dark night skies or the ability to see the Milky Way. Moffat lost its dark night skies status after building its two-story school with a large, well-lit parking lot. Terrell suggests redesign of the lighting to comply with the Dark Sky Society guidelines, pointing out that in the end it will save the school in energy costs.
Citizens discuss concerns
After Terrell’s presentation, citizens privately discussed concerns about their properties affected by the school’s design while the town board went into executive session. Cathy Kent, owner of the Saguache Hotel, complained that no one came to notify residents affected by the school design or ask for their input before approving the two-story structure.
Kent and her partner now live in a home on Second Avenue and Christy. She described how one resident on the design committee left before Christmas when the building was still a one-story design and when she returned, it had increased to two stories, adversely affecting her home.
She and Saguache resident June Savage both commented that it is a shame the school will overshadow several one-story homes in the area that are more than 100 years old. They expressed the opinion that the design should be more low-profile, in keeping with the style and historic status of the homes and businesses in the neighborhood.
Pat Miller reported that one couple possessing an easement to school property was told by school officials they would need to vacate the easement or it could be removed by eminent domain. The school later offered to pay them for the easement, she noted. Miller, who is Terrell’s partner, said their property is one of those affected by the height of the school, which in some places is almost three stories high.
Commenting on the recent objections to the school’s design, Mountain Valley Superintendent Travis Garoutte said Tuesday he feels he and others have been “super transparent” in the past year and a half of planning and advocating for building the school. Three of the DAG members supervising the building design live on land surrounding the school and “had no problems with the design.”
“Preliminary designs [were] based off community input during the initial community meetings,” Garoutte continued. “We have had 10-15 community meetings and progress has been printed in the Saguache Crescent, Center Post- Dispatch, MVS Website, Facebook and my blog. All posts can be found in the Superintendent's Corner of the MVS website. The Design Advisory Group (DAG) was responsible for finalizing the design. The DAG was advertised for at length and all interested parties were invited to be members.”
Some have speculated that until just recently the actual impact of the school’s design on adjacent property owners was not fully realized or appreciated. The current design plan is not too far removed from what was originally proposed, he said. But photos seem to give the impression that the first design for the school did not involve a second story.
Garoutte says he is consulting with the town on water and sewer issues and the correct drainage for the site. Engineers for the school will make sure the correct fill for the site is used, he added.
“We have to look at what’s best for the kids and families,” Garoutte explained. “A handful of people are impacted but those expressing concerns have no children in school.” If the design is changed now other people in a different neighborhood would be impacted, he observed.
“The architects are working on some changes, but we only have so much land,” Garoutte pointed out. “We are trying to alleviate concerns.” He said there could be some minor design changes, but the current location is “pretty much where it will go.”
“We are looking to the future; in the end, it’s for the kids,” he concluded.