The retired Montezuma-Cortez High School on Seventh Street in Cortez will be demolished.
At their meeting Tuesday, Re-1 Board of Education members voted unanimously to accept the high school task force’s recommendation to tear down the former school, which contains friable asbestos filler within some of its cinder block walls.
Board member Sherri Wright thanked the task force for the work members had done.
“The task force has made this decision easier,” she said.
The 28-member task force, made up of district staff, local government officials and members of the public, met several times in the past few months to investigate options for the former high school, which was retired after the 2014-2015 school year. The task force studied several topics including district financing options, abating asbestos, demolishing the building and long-term planning for the site.
Though the board officially decided to demolish the building, questions remain on how the district will carry it out.
District officials have estimated that abating asbestos and demolishing the building would cost between $1.8 million and $2.5 million, far exceeding the amount originally budgeted.
Kemper Elementary Principal Jamie Haukeness, who also is Re-1 executive director of facilities and school safety, said funding will be a major concern going forward. He said the $1.8 million the district has set aside for a new stadium would be one potential funding source for the demolition effort.
The stadium money was raised after the original, voter-approved 2013 bond issue, which also funded the building of the new M-CHS. Haukeness said the task force recommended that the board go back to the voters with a ballot question regarding how to use the stadium money going forward.
Despite hesitance from several members during an hour-long discussion, the board found a compromise at M-CHS principal Jason Wayman’s suggestion.
They unanimously decided to ask voters on the November election ballot to use up to $800,000 of the stadium money for the demolition of the retired high school as needed. They will leave untouched at least $1 million of the stadium funds, which will be used to upgrade the existing Panther Stadium on Broadway near Cortez Middle School. Any unused money from the demolition also will be used to upgrade that stadium.
Including that language on the ballot will cost the district $10,000, superintendent Lori Haukeness said.
Board member Pete Montano initially balked at repurposing the stadium money. He pointed out that 63 percent of voters approved the use of that money specifically for a new stadium, and he said the board shouldn’t touch it.
Board President Jack Schuenemeyer said he would support reallocating the stadium money only as a last resort.
“As a voter I would like to know that the district had exhausted other options,” he said.
About $908,000 might be available to the district to put toward the demolition through the Colorado Department of Education Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant program, said Jim Ketter, who is the district’s owners representative along with his business partner Peter Robinson.
About $418,000 of that amount was already raised following the 2013 bond issue. The other portion of that amount, about $490,000, represents the matching CDE grant from the program.
Although the full $908,000 already was allocated for Re-1 use, the district will need to submit another applications to CDE in order to be able to use either portion, Ketter said. The district would have a strong case for winning approval to use both those funds, he said. If the money is awarded to the district, it must be spent within six to 12 months, per the grant program rules, Jamie Haukeness said.
Board members instructed Ketter to proceed in applying for the use of those BEST grant amounts, and to ask CDE for an extension of up to 14 months to spend the money. Ketter said the district could consider applying for another BEST grant next year.
The board also voted to extend the owner’s rep services contract for Ketter’s firm, KPMC LLC, to see through the demolition project.
Board member Wright acknowledged the board’s concerns with using the stadium funds for something that wasn’t previously intended. But she said she didn’t want the district to be in a situation where they are short of the money needed for demolition and unable to use money that’s sitting in the bank.
Superintendent Haukeness agreed, saying she wasn’t in favor of using the stadium money, but the district needed a backup plan.
Board Member Brian Balfour said the decision on stadium money was a tough decision. He agreed with Schuenemeyer.
“We need to do everything we can to find other funding,” he said.
As the district and community search for the next use for the Seventh Street property following the demolition, Lori Haukeness suggested tying in the Montezuma School to Farm Project. Board members agreed that was a good idea that potentially could open up more funding options, such as grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Board member Eric Whyte said the board could not have foreseen some of the problems that arose at the retired high school. But he and other board members, as well as Re-1 teachers and members of the public at the meeting, agreed that the situation has diminished the community’s trust in the district.
Many district buildings and buses are aging and the district is operating on a slim budget for next school year. But board members agreed not to pursue a mill levy override for the fall election. Schuenemeyer said it was too late to get started with that process, and Wright said district officials needed more time to educate the public on the issue and build up community trust before they asked voters for such a measure.
Jamie Haukeness said he and other task force members are confident the district can find other sources of funding for the demolition. Ketter said he has developed a passion for the demolition project and a desire to help the district see it through.
“This is a speed bump, but we need to fix this for the whole community,” Ketter said.