A major remodel of the Mancos Schools campus began Tuesday, and some of the school’s neighbors aren’t happy about plans to cut down some of the trees.
The final design for the remodel includes plans to remove an old blue spruce tree in front of Mancos High School to make room for a bus loop. It also will require the removal of the Nowak House just north of the Performance Center, along with a half dozen trees surrounding it, to build a parking lot.
Although the school district has held a few public meetings about the project, most recently on April 30, some residents have complained that construction plans – including tree removal – have not been adequately shared with the public.
On Sunday, about 20 people, led by neighboring resident Tim Stubbs, met with school board members and owner’s representative Monty Guiles to discuss communication efforts, saying they didn’t know the trees would be cut down until a few days before construction was to begin. They asked the district to consider saving at least a few of the trees.
Guiles said it was too late to change the district’s tree removal plans, and added that he tried to leave as many standing as possible.
“We tried desperately to save both spruce trees,” he said.
The conceptual design for the school remodel, which the district submitted as part of its Building Excellent Schools Today grant application, called for a bus loop between the two spruce trees, which would have saved both. But Guiles said the design was changed in the final plan, which was drafted in February, after the district’s landscape consultants said a paved loop that conformed to Colorado Department of Transportation requirements would have destroyed the roots of both trees if it were built between them. Guiles decided to save one spruce by removing the other.
Wood from the tree will be milled and salvaged as construction material for the project, Guiles said, although he doesn’t yet know how it will be used. A landscaping design released by Superintendent Brian Hanson on Wednesday shows architectural firm Humphries Poli plans to plant new trees around the campus after the remodel, including a blue spruce in front of the high school.
The district’s plans for the Nowak House, which it owns, also have changed. The district originally planned to pay to move it to another location, but Guiles said no one answered the request for bids, so it will be torn down. The district hosted a salvage day on May 19, and neighbors were invited to take anything they wanted from inside the house before it was demolished.
That’s when Stubbs began to ask questions. He doesn’t attend school board meetings, he said, so he was surprised to see that the Nowak House across the street from his house has been gutted. He couldn’t find detailed construction plans on the Mancos Schools website or by asking district leaders.
“For a project this size, funded with taxpayer dollars, they should be more transparent,” Stubbs said.
Several of his neighbors felt the same way, and many of them turned up on Sunday demanding answers from the district.
Guiles said he was frustrated by the questions, and added that the district has been as transparent as possible.
“I’m floored that anyone would take exception to a $25 million project, in itty-bitty Mancos, that is going to improve the safety of students,” he said.
Stubbs said he’s concerned about losing the “history” of the trees, as well as the shade they’ve provided.
In the school board meeting on May 21, Hanson said that he believed some trees on the western side of the house would be saved. But he said diverting traffic away from Grand Avenue was a higher priority than saving trees.
“Our priority is a parking lot,” he said.
The district held numerous public meetings about the remodel in 2017, but since the November passage of a $5 million bond to fund the project, the only public outreach event outside of school board meetings has been the April 30 open house, which 30 people attended.
The district website features a drawing of Phase 1 of the project, including the bus loop and parking lot; a preliminary construction schedule; the budget reports from the first three months of the year; and a master plan. Guiles said the full, detailed construction file is too large to put on the website.
The school project is expected to be completed in summer 2020. One of the school activities most affected by the construction will be the Mancos School to Farm project. A group of volunteers helped remove the school garden on May 17 to make way for improvements to the athletic fields, and School to Farm Director Gretchen Rank said students won’t be able to attend outdoor gardening classes in Mancos during construction. Instead, she plans to work with Elementary Principal Cathy Epps to plan field trips and indoor gardening activities for students.
Hanson said the district will open a new School to Farm garden in a lot on West First Street sometime next year.
The school remodel will include additions to the Elementary School, Middle School and Performance Center, as well as secure locks on all exterior doors, a new roof for the Elementary School and upgrades to the oldest buildings’ plumbing and electricity. It is being funded entirely by the BEST grant and the tax bond.
The school board will hold a work session on Monday, and a regular meeting on June 18.