SAGUACHE — A good-sized crowd attended a presentation last Thursday to discuss the BEST grant bond measure and weigh issues such as building a new versus a renovated school for the community.
The Colorado State Board of Education approved $295.6 million in total projects for school construction across the state in annual grant awards from the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) program at its meeting last month. Del Norte also was the recipient of a BEST grant for a new PreK-12 school.
Mountain Valley will receive $27,072,252 million in grant funds for the school, leaving the community the task of raising some $3.7 million in matching funds to supplement the grant. The November mill levy bond, if passed, would reflect a cost of 12 cents on the dollar for the project, Mountain Valley Schools Superintendent Travis Garoutte said.
Colorado Department of Education’s Capital Construction Assistance Board (CCAB) ranked Mountain Valley’s new school application, based on severity of needs, as the highest in the entire state. Mountain Valley also was the top-ranked application for a new school in Colorado.
During the meeting, costs to taxpayers for the school over the 20-year life of the bond were broken down for residential, agricultural and commercial properties. If a home is worth $100,000, taxes would increase by $120 a year and for homes worth $200,000 $240 a year. Agricultural lands would pay $446 a year per $100,000 in value, irrigated or dry. Commercial properties would pay $1,115 annually for a $250,000 business and $2,230 for a business valued at $500,000.
Business owner and rancher Ed Nielsen said the increases would be “a burden, tax-wise, for some.” He suggested the school consider renovation versus a new school, a project some said was estimated at $17 million in 2008. Without the BEST grant, the entire $17 million would need to be funded through a mill levy bond, but it is possible a BEST renovation grant could be obtained next year if this year’s bond failed.
Others warned, however, there are no guarantees funds would still be available or available in the some amounts. They cautioned the costs for such renovation, given the age and condition of the school and the time lapse since the last estimate, would amount to as much as the current BEST grant.
Nielsen questioned whether it wouldn’t be optional to close the school, if the bond did not pass and BEST funding was not available, and simply have students transferred to other area schools by bus. Other citizens objected this would be detrimental to students and would contribute to the decline of the town and county seat, since so many community activities center around the school.
Elvie Samora suggested that the school’s current size (140 students) might not justify the $3.7 million bond, although pre-school director Lacy Reed pointed out the student count has grown in the past two years and will continue to grow, owing to people moving into the community.
One citizen cautioned that if the district lets this golden opportunity pass, another opportunity to rebuild the school may never arise, and the school will die. “Nobody wants more taxes,” he noted, suggesting residents in the district consider “giving something up” for students each month to make up for the tax increase.
Other citizens commented: “Our kids deserve this,” and “We’re doing this for our kids, our grandkids, the community, the town, the county — morale will be boosted. The school is the heart of the community.”
Overall, the sentiment was in favor of passing the bond and ways to best educate the community about the need for a new school were discussed. Possibilities of adding back vocational instruction were considered and planners explained the community garden and greenhouse the school now operates would be key features in the new school design.
If built, construction would begin next year, be routed around the current school schedule and existing buildings and would be completed by the fall of 2019. The resulting school would be smaller but more energy efficient and operationally more accessible for students and staff. Funding would include all school equipment and furnishings, including computers.
In addition to a host of plumbing, electrical and other structural problems now plaguing the school, Superintendent Garoutte said his primary concern is improving school safety. He noted there are far too many entryways into the school and keeping them all secured continues to be a challenge.
The next planning meeting will be announced later this month.