On June 28, Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1 was awarded a $22.7 million grant from the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) program. This grant was awarded because the BEST board recognized the serious health and safety issues that exist in our current high school building, and agreed that the educational adequacy of the current M-CHS building places our students at a significant disadvantage to their peers statewide.
To remedy the situation, the BEST board offered to fund over half of the cost to build a replacement high school for the students of our district. In order for our community and school district to receive this money, however, we must pass a bond to match the award. As superintendent of schools, I am happy to have the opportunity to explain why we need a new high school, to review the condition of and problems with our current facility, and to project how a new school will positively impact our community.
If our voters support this bond and activate the $22.7 million BEST grant, our community will be able to build the high school our students deserve and need for half price. We have been advised that this is likely to be the last year that the BEST grants will be offered and, therefore, we are not likely to ever have the chance to build a school for 60 cents on the dollar again. We believe that this opportunity is simply too good to pass up.
What are the problems with the current high school?
The current high school, built in 1966, has serious health and safety issues. One of the most pressing issues is the lack of security in the current structure. There are 21 separate exterior entry doors. It is impossible to ensure that all of the doors are secure at any time during the school day. Additionally, the lack of adequate fire walls and other important fire safety controls make this building permanently out of compliance with fire safety code.
Inadequate and unreliable HVAC infrastructure results in severe fluctuation in building temperature and air quality. There are also hundreds of square feet of asbestos and mercury floor tiles which represent potential health risks to our students and teachers.
Consulting engineers and architects estimate that it would cost at least 75 percent of the replacement cost just to bring the existing building up to a minimally adequate standard. Even then wed still be stuck with an antiquated learning facility.
The existing high school has no modern technology infrastructure. It is impossible to provide an adequate 21st century learning environment to our students. There is no way to create modern SMART classrooms that allow for teachers to employ best instructional practices during instruction.
Finally, the land the high school is built upon is tiny by the standards of modern high school design. The entire parcel is just 14 acres, and is simply too small to accommodate our extracurricular and athletic program. As a result, our students are compelled to travel throughout town to participate in school sports and other extra-curricular activities on sub-par fields and facilities.
How will building a new school fix these problems?
If the community votes to pass the bond, the school district will design and build a new high school facility upon a 35 acre parcel of land located behind Wal-Mart at the intersection of Sligo Street and 7th Avenue. We will use an inclusive process to design the building, involving representatives from all segments of our community. Our intention is to create a building that highlights the entire cultural heritage and history of our region, which we recognize as a great strength of Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1. This will be a school that every member of our community will be proud of.
The school will not only be aesthetically pleasing, it will be built to capitalize upon all of the advances learned since the current high school structure was designed and built starting in 1966. The building will be LEED Gold certified, using the most energy-efficient building materials and building operations, which will cut down on operational costs. The building will be designed to be as safe, secure, and healthy a learning and working environment as is possible. The building will be wired to provide state-of-the-art 21st century learning for all of our academic classrooms. Our students will enjoy modern equipment and facilities in our career and technical education programs. In short, our students will have access to the learning environment that they deserve.
Finally, our students will have access to the athletic facilities that will put our student-athletes on a level playing field with those with whom they compete. These playing fields will not only be good for the athletes they will provide a sense of pride to the entire community as we host guests from our neighboring communities to M-CHS for athletic and extracurricular competition.
How will this bond affect taxes?
The short answer is: Everyone will have to pay more. Our estimated projections show that private residential property taxes will increase by $1.95 per month per $100,000 of market valuation. For agricultural properties, the increase will be $0.49 per acre of sprinkler irrigated; $0.45 per acre of flood irrigated; and, $0.02 per acre of grazing land. Commercial property taxes will increase by $7.15 per $100,000 of commercial market value. It is important to note that this is half as much as the taxes would increase if the BEST grant wasnt covering half of the cost of the new high school.
How will this initiative impact our community?
The impact a $42 million building project has on a local economy cannot be overstated. It puts local people to work, provides the local construction industry with great opportunities to secure long-term building projects, and brings outside workers into our community to patronize our local businesses and restaurants, increasing revenues and profits.
When the new high school is built and becomes a real and physical representation of the level of commitment this community has for education, we predict that it will become a signature element of their recruiting programs. Many important local institutions from the hospital, to the city and county governments, to our professional businesses report that the perceived quality of the educational system is an important factor in the decision to relocate to a new community. Building a new high school will make Cortez a more attractive place for the highest quality people to bring their families to live, work, and learn.
The long-term benefits of building a high school that has the capability to deliver a quality, 21st century education to students include Cortez having a highly trained, 21st century workforce. Research tells us that strong educational systems and good healthcare are the engines that drive economic growth and prosperity. By producing a local workforce with a familiarity with high-tech systems, collaborative work and learning environments, and high levels of literacy, Cortez will attract new business and industry to the region.
We believe that building this new, 21st century high school for the students of Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-is an opportunity to revitalize our economy for generations to come.
The school district will be welcoming citizens to tour the high school each Tuesday and Thursday evening through the end of October. If you have any questions that you would like me to answer, or would like me to come to visit with your community or group to share additional information about this issue, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alex Carter is superintendent of schools for Montezuma-Cortez School district Re-1.