Members of a task force that investigated options for the retired Montezuma-Cortez High School on Seventh Street have unanimously recommended that the old building be demolished.
At the Re-1 School District Board meeting Tuesday, board members didn’t take an official vote on the demolition option, but all members verbally agreed that it should be torn down.
The 28-member task force, made up of district staffers, local government officials and members of the public, met several times in the past few months to investigate options for the former high school. The building was retired after the 2014-2015 school year and contains friable asbestos in some of its cinder-block walls. The task force studied several topics including district financing options, abating asbestos, demolishing the building and long-term planning for the site.
Cortez Mayor Karen Sheek, a task force member, told school board members the force’s recommendation is unified and adamant.
“If there is any doubt among this group how strong this recommendation is, know that it was unanimous,” she said. “The building needs to go.”
District officials have estimated that abating asbestos and demolishing the building would cost between $1.8 million and $2.5 million. Another option the task force explored would be remodeling the building and converting the space into district offices, which has been estimated to cost at least $500,000.
Sheek, along with task force members Suzy Meyer and Dottie Wayt, spoke to the school board in a work session prior to the board’s meeting.
Meyer and Wayt spoke on the public’s perception of the dilemma. Both said they were initially skeptical of demolishing the building upon joining the task force, but came around and realized that was the most feasible option. They said others on the task force had a similar change of perspective.
Meyer said the task force looked hard at options for repurposing the building for the good of the school district and community. Some task force members expected strong sentiment for a building through which many generations of students came and went, but Meyer said demand wasn’t high among the public to keep and repurpose the building.
Among 251 respondents to an online survey on the retired M-CHS, about 70 percent said they disagreed that the district should keep the building and convert it into district offices. But survey respondents were divided almost evenly on whether or not the district should attempt to secure funding to remove asbestos and demolish the building.
The district has $1.8 million set aside to build a new stadium at the new high school, but estimates say the district would need about $1.5 million more to construct a stadium. About 54 percent of survey respondents disagreed that the reserved $1.8 million should be reallocated to abate asbestos and demolish the retired high school. About 63 percent said that money should remain in a new stadium fund to build one in the future.
Meyer said there was no practical plan to repurpose the building. The maintenance, utility, and security costs for a repurposed building would be expensive, she said. The ongoing liability for the building would be “horrendous,” she added.
“The fact that we were able to come to a solution relatively quickly shows that (the task force) has arrived at the best of the imperfect options,” Meyer said. “This will prove to be the least-costly option in the long-term.”
Though task force members recommended demolition, they realized the financial strain the option would put on a district already facing severe budget constraints, Meyer said. Sheek identified various funds and grant opportunities that might be a source of money for the district as it looks to rehabilitate the old high school site for another use.
Sheek said she believes the district will find money for what needs to happen once the school board members officially decide what they want to do.
“The most important thing now is to say yes,” Sheek said. “We will find a way to make it happen.”
Grants and funding sources could include state funds or revolving loan funds, as well as grants from organizations such as the Department of Local Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency, Go Outdoors Colorado and the U.S. Soccer Association, Sheek reported. The district should have a definite idea of what asbestos abatement and demolition will cost if it hopes to be granted money from those organizations, Sheek said. The district would be more likely to secure funding from those sources if it looks at the project as preparing the Seventh Street site for another use instead of demolition, she added.
Wayt agreed, saying district officials should remain optimistic.
“There’s a real positive side to this in preparing the site for something else,” she said.
School board member Pete Montano said the district’s first instinct — to demolish the retired high school — turned out to be the best option.
“Our first answer was the best answer,” he said.
Sheek stressed collaboration between the district and the community. She said the task force is made up of experienced people who are interested in helping the district solve the problem. There are people who want to help, so the district should allow them to do so, the mayor said.
“This gives us the opportunity to come together and do something good for Cortez,” Sheek said.
School board member Kara Suckla said collaboration is important and urged the district to get started.
“There are options and possibilities, so let’s get it rolling,” Suckla said. “It will be good to show the community that we’re all in this together.”