SAGUACHE — Ballots have now been mailed and voters will soon decide whether or not to approve a new school for Mountain Valley, but some objecting to the project have recently raised issues that voters may find confusing.
The existing school facilities require over $16.5 million in repairs, according to the complete facilities assessment done by the State of Colorado. If the bond fails, the district will be forced to pursue another bond in the near future to address only a fraction of the current $16.5 million for needed repairs.
The total proposed project budget is $30,796,951. Mountain Valley School District taxpayers are being asked to pay approximately 12 percent of the total project cost ($3,724,699). The state, in providing Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST grant) funds, will foot the bill for 88 percent of total project costs ($27,072,252).
Long after the studies on new construction versus renovation were completed and the discussions held for months during community meetings have ended, residents continue to question the wisdom of building a new school, maintaining that renovation could cost millions less and free taxpayers from the burden of increased property taxes. Some of those objecting to the new construction had criticized the previous superintendent for not pursuing a BEST grant years ago.
Those most recently objecting to the new school did not present as a majority promoting renovation when those discussions were held, MVS Superintendent Travis Garoutte notes. The discussions resulted in a majority of community members endorsing the idea of a new school, not a renovated school and this for several important reasons.
• Security issues — As explained before, the proximity of the school to the jail and to Highway 285, reduced staff at the sheriff’s office, the fact there are 49 different entryways into the school and the inability of school staff to monitor the entryways all went into the decision to build a new school. Parents and school staff feel children’s safety is paramount.
• Outdated mechanical systems (electrical, plumbing, heating, sewer) — These are the most expensive systems to repair and replace and often require extensive rebuilding and disruption to school function, especially when such repairs are unanticipated.
• Site safety concerns — There are deficiencies in fire suppression, door access systems, security cameras and alarms. No safe parking, bus zone or student transfer/exchange area is in place.
• Structural issues — The structural integrity of several buildings on campus are compromised.
According to Colorado Department of Education (CDE) standards, Garoutte said, whenever a school reaches a 60 percent level regarding failing systems, a rebuild is recommended. Mountain Valley was rated at a 62 percent systems failing score, and this prompted the decision to build new rather than renovate. Those who did not attend the meetings prior to the decision to build new or participate in the discussions may not be aware of this.
CDE’s Dustin Guerin said that the decision to renovate had to be made prior to the school’s submitting the BEST grant proposal to determine fund allocation, but last May the grant application to the state was for a new school, not a renovation project. Once the grant application is received and approved, the renovation is not an option. Guerin agreed that security issues, especially, would be troubling for parents. And Garoutte commented that “unless the school is safe and secure, nothing else matters.”
While a letter printed last week in the Saguache Crescent claims sufficient repairs could be made to the school that would resolve the problems and require only $1 million in funds, no source for this estimate is quoted and no cost breakdown is provided. The letter claims the rise in taxes would put some ranchers out of business as well as harm local business owners.
But others have pointed out that the lack of a school in Saguache would also hurt businesses, because families with children would be reluctant to relocate to the area. While the tax increase may adversely impact some, Garoutte pointed out, a bond for the $16.5 million for renovation would cost much more.
Garoutte says he believes the best deal for the district is the current measure on the ballot. Next year there may not be BEST grants available for new construction, and Guerin confirmed that some years are leaner than others.
Town residents will learn the outcome of the ballot issue on Nov. 7.