Re-1 school district officials have found themselves between a rock and hard place with the old Montezuma-Cortez High School building.
The district made a rock-solid promise to tear down the old high school after the new school was built. But the district is having a hard time funding its demolition because of the cost of removing asbestos from the 1966 facility.
The dilemma dismays City Hall.
City officials told Superintendent Alex Carter at a workshop on Tuesday, Aug. 11, that they lobbied for the 20-year, $18.9 million bond measure on the condition that the old school be demolished.
“That’s how this bond was sold,” Mayor Karen Skeek said.
Carter responded that his hands were tied because the district didn’t have the capital on hand to demolish the building. He said $150,000 was budgeted, but it will now cost up to $1.5 million.
“There’s nothing we can do about this,” Carter said.
He said initial testing never revealed that the concrete-block walls at the old Seventh Street facility were covered with friable asbestos. He said the environmental concern was discovered in spring.
Frustrated, Sheek asked Carter why the district didn’t have adequate asbestos testing done from the start.
“Somebody was asleep at the switch,” she said.
Carter replied that the district relied on environmental testing that dated to the 1980s when developing its proposal. He also said the state wouldn’t increase funding from the BEST grant program or consider an appeal on the asbestos determination by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
“It’s still hard for me to swallow,” said councilmember Orley Lucero, urging Carter to find financing to grant the community’s wishes.
Councilmember Ty Keel reminded his peers to consider the reality: The district doesn’t have the money for the job.
“I think the community will understand,” said Keel.
Councilmember Tom Butler countered that the reality was that residents were promised a demolition.
“The building is nonfunctional,” said Butler. “Now we’re going to say that we’re going to keep using it a little more?”
Carter has proposed that the old school be repurposed, suggesting that district administrative offices, for example, could be relocated there. He said the district’s food service, warehouse and maintenance operations could also be consolidated into the old building, and the old gym and theater could be used by community organizations.
At issue is an understanding between the district and the city that requires the school be demolished by Dec. 4. According to city attorney Mike Green, the city and district would need to amend the agreement if the building isn’t demolished. Green said the city could take legal action demanding the district fulfill its end of the bargain.
Carter admitted that the district would likely backtrack from its pledge to voters, but added, “They didn’t get duped.”
The subject was ultimately tabled. Councilmembers ordered Carter to make a last-ditch effort to find a solution including a demolition.