The future of the Dolores schools campus remains up in the air, although the deadline for a large state facilities grant is fast-approaching.
The Dolores School District Re-4A is looking at either building a new school on an entirely new site or renovating the current facility. Last week, the school board decided to postpone the decision until the new members join the board and until they’ve solicited more feedback from the community.
Board President Kay Phelps said that while she understood the need for expediency, if the district rushed too quickly in this decision, they could risk losing transparency.
“We need to restore some trust with the community,” she told the packed board room on Nov. 18.
They moved to put a survey together, postpone the final decision until the new board members are instated, and release a statement that it’s still a concept plan and that the tax burden would be the same regardless of option.
The vote was 4-1, with board member Deanna Truelsen as the lone nay vote.
The district has been planning a large-scale renovation for some time, with hopes of receiving a Building Excellent Schools Today grant from the Colorado Department of Education to help fund the project. In August, the Dolores school board approved a master plan to guide the BEST grant application – featuring multiple new elements and additions, including a new secondary school and a more secure perimeter.
However, earlier this fall, engineers from the CDE, along with other officials and architects, evaluated the site and proposed moving the entire campus, largely because of the difficulties posed by the floodplain, in which the schools are located.
The district has been looking into some land near Dolores that could possibly be used for a school site, especially a few parcels above Joe Rowell Park.
The cost of Option 1 is estimated at $45 million and Option 2 at $57 million.
Regardless of which option is selected, the district plans to seek the maximum amount from a bond in November 2020. The bond capacity is $8.2 million, Richard said at a recent community forum – accounting for the remaining 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, she said.
If the bond doesn’t pass in 2020, the district would not receive a prospective BEST grant. This is the last year the CDE will have two funding sources for the BEST grant, Richard said, meaning that large-scale projects may not be funded in the future.
A decision on the future of the campus headlined the agenda at last week’s board meeting: specifically moving forward with Option 1 or Option 2, or stopping project plans altogether. Several community and staff members shared their thoughts, with mixed opinions.
A few residents felt that removing the school from town would disrupt the community, and make it difficult for students to walk to school.
“I really feel like moving the school out of town will gut the heart of this community,” said Marianne Mate. “And I think it’s going to have a huge impact on businesses.”
The staff members who spoke, though, were in favor of the move, highlighting the recent flooding and facilities issues the school has seen in recent years.
“I’ve been there for 30 years,” said secondary science teacher Dave Hopcia. “You could put a ribbon around that school over and over and over again. It’s never going to make the standards that our kids deserve.”
Board members were hesitant to make a firm decision for a few different reasons: They wanted to gather more community input first, and also wanted to wait for new board members to come in. Clay Tallmadge and Maegan Crowley are set to officially replace Deanna Truelsen and Vangi McCoy at the December board meeting.
“If I make this decision, I don’t have to follow through with it,” said outgoing board member Vangi McCoy.
Board Vice President Casey McClellan proposed a survey go out to the community, the people who would help pay for it. “It should go out to the voters,” he said.
Superintendent Lis Richard said that while she understands that the process feels like a rush, it actually had been ongoing since February, and the deadline to come to a decision is coming nearer.
“I just need some direction, because I have CDE and the architects and the engineers and the grant writer that are communicating with me every day,” Richard said.
The BEST grant application is due between Jan. 2 and Feb. 24 next year.