The Dolores School District and more than 150 residents on Nov. 6 discussed plans for a new or renovated school campus, at a cost of up to $57 million.
At the community meeting, Superintendent Lis Richard presented the two main options and financial details, including plans to apply for a Building Excellent Schools Today grant. Residents were then asked to share their thoughts with rotating school board members.
“Once those votes are cast by the board, we would really like this to be something that we all come together for and come around, and really make happen together,” Richard said. “We don’t want to go out solo. It’s going to be a lot of work. We want to have our community behind us.”
The board will discuss and vote on these options at their regular meeting on Monday.
Last week’s presentation was also posted online on the district’s website.
Option 1: Renovate for $45 millionUpdating current district facilities has been discussed over the past few years, but a recent facilities assessment found several safety and structural issues.
Richard claimed the current campus faces security problems because of its multiple entry points and nearness to an overlooking bluff. She also said that because the buildings have been “piece-mealed together” over the years, the campus contains “unsafe pedestrian corridors and maintenance requirements that are unstable.”
The campus – and most of the town – lies within the Federal Emergency Management Agency floodplain and has experienced flooding in recent years. The secondary school is too small for the students’ curricular needs, Richard said, and the preschool’s off-campus location poses challenges since it shares resources with the campus.
Further, she said, this is the last year the Colorado Department of Education will have two funding sources for the BEST grant.
“After this year, it goes down to one,” Richard said. “After this year, CDE is telling us they may not fund whole school projects, just partial projects on schools.”
A renovation at the school’s current site, outlined in the approved master plan, includes a new secondary school, more secure perimeter and new drop-off and pickup procedures.
The secondary school, gym and courtyards would be raised 3½ feet to address flooding concerns.
According to Richard, advantages to the renovation option include avoiding a new site and build, designing new safety and security features and utilizing the existing master plan.
Disadvantages include the need for off-campus sports activities, continued problems of the floodplain and the need for a rebuilt elementary school.
Option 1 is estimated to cost about $45 million.
Option 2: A new site for $57 millionThe second option, moving the campus to a new site, came up after engineers from the CDE evaluated the site and proposed the idea. According to Richard, more than 10 properties were examined over the past three months and evaluated for qualities, including location, water table level, acreage needs and resources affecting a property’s suitability, such as soil, electricity and water.
The top-five properties being considered include 15 acres behind Skyline Food Mart, a 94-acre lot about 2 miles after the Colorado Highway 184 turnoff toward Mancos, the old dump site, and a 15-acre site and 106-acre lot above Joe Rowell Park.
The administration favors the 106 acres above Joe Rowell Park, Richard said.
According to Richard, advantages of Option 2 include addressing safety and standards, leaving the floodplain and a comprehensive sports complex. The vacated campus could be used for revenue or repurposed as a vocational school.
Disadvantages include moving the school from the center of town, adding cost to the BEST grant request, and possibly hurting business in town.
The estimated cost for Option 2 is $57 million.
Financials and timelineAlthough Re-4A would have a 53% match for the BEST grant, the district planned to request a waiver because of the tax burden, Richard said.
Regardless of the option selected, the district plans to seek the maximum amount from a bond in November 2020. The bond capacity is $8.2 million, Richard said – accounting for the remaining $3.135 million principal from the 2012 bond voters approved.
An $8.2 million bond would amount to an additional cost of $6.81 per month for a $100,000 home, Richard said.
If the bond doesn’t pass in 2020, the district would not receive a prospective BEST grant.
After Monday’s vote, the district’s next steps include working on the BEST grant application, revising the master plan and laying the groundwork for a bond measure in 2020. The BEST application is due between Jan. 2 and Feb. 24, and awards are announced in the summer.
The district would select an architect and builder before May, and the community would vote on the proposed property tax increase in November, which will determine if the BEST grant moves forward.
Community feedbackAt Wednesday night’s meeting, community members were asked to evaluate four considerations: Option 1, renovate and stay; Option 2, purchase property and move sites; what to do with the vacated buildings; and any remaining issues. Current and former school board members and candidates gathered responses and feedback.
The community’s response was mixed. Option 2, the plan to move, raised concerns about the future of the existing campus and health clinic, transportation for students who walk or bike to school, and a loss of revenue downtown.
Option 1, the plan to renovate, raised concerns about whether the construction would disrupt learning, and where temporary classrooms would be located.
Monday night’s meeting in Dolores will be held at 6 p.m. in the large building behind the district office at 100 N. Sixth St. A work session will begin at 4:30 p.m.