STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Following Saturday’s final community “listening session,” Steamboat Springs board of education President Joey Andrew said the board’s plan is to make decisions about what a proposed new school will look like and where it will be located at the board’s May 20 meeting.
Andrew said Tuesday there still is a possibility the decision could be postponed but said the board was “close” to taking action. Monday night’s meeting will be held at Colorado Mountain College to provide adequate space for the public, Andrew said.
The board hopes to put a bond issue before voters in November. The proposal will include funding for upgrades at existing schools.
The total bond package is estimated at between $83 million and $93 million, depending on which projects the board decides to pursue. A $93 million bond package would cost residential taxpayers $26 a month on a home assessed at $500,000. Commercial property worth $500,000 would be taxed $107 a month.
Andrew emphasized that, in the decision-making process, “programming needs” take priority over site selection. The board will be deciding between three options in terms of grade configuration: a new elementary, a new middle school or a combined elementary and middle school.
A recent scientific poll showed more support for Steamboat II.
Neither site is perfect, noted Superintendent Brad Meeks at Saturday’s meeting, but both can be made to work.
In terms of infrastructure, one of the biggest differences is Whistler has existing water and sewer, while Steamboat II doesn’t.
A traffic study is available for both sites, showing the potential traffic changes. There’s also a study on how many children currently live within a mile of each site. Find those studies and more at buildingforthefuture.ssk12.org.
Once the district closes on a land purchase next month, the Steamboat II site will be significantly larger — 70 acres compared to 9.2 at Whistler — and a reason many have advocated for Steamboat II.
An idea was proposed at a previous meeting to put the school on the east side of Routt County Road 42 on the Steamboat II site, further from existing houses.
“It could fit, but there are other factors to look at,” Meeks said.
He emphasized that building scenarios for both sites are still very preliminary at this point.
One of the biggest areas of debate at Saturday’s meeting was whether the district even needs a new building at all.
Several people questioned, based on demographic projections, if the district is justified in asking property owners to pay for a new building estimated to cost $61 million to $75 million.
Meeks summarized the most recent RSP demographics study commissioned by the district, which shows an increase of just over 150 students in the next five years. A second scenario shows an increase of about 130 students in five years.
“You’re asking me to pay $100 million for 120 kids?” one person asked, also suggesting the problem was with out-of-district students.
Meeks pointed out that out-of-district students make up just 4.2 percent of the student body, lower than most surrounding districts. State law also requires out-of-district students be allowed to apply, Meeks noted, and they evaluate each application on a case-by-case basis before determining whether they have room in that grade level. They don’t take students if it causes the district to incur additional cost, Meeks said.
As a whole, the district is at 101 percent capacity, Meeks said. And while enrollment has grown 21 percent in the past 10 years, the district has had the same number of buildings since 1981.
Soda Creek was a replacement, and Meeks has cautioned against choosing a scenario that creates a school that is filled within just a few years and doesn’t leave room for growth.
Meeks also emphasized that demographic projections are much more complex than looking at birth rates, especially with new housing developments and more people moving to the area with location-neutral occupations.
“We know the community is going to change,” he said. “And if the community changes, the district has to change too.”
The science of predicting growth is inherently flawed and unpredictable, Meeks said, but of all the demographics studies conducted in the past six years, “Everyone says we will keep growing.”
Asked whether a new facility is justified, Andrew said “absolutely.”
Andrew also pointed out that the most recent demographics report doesn’t include planned neighborhoods in West Steamboat. And Andrew wants to look as far as 20, 30, and even 50 years into the future to give future boards flexibility.
Anna White, a teacher at Strawberry Park Elementary School who spoke up at Saturday’s community meeting, said there are too many kids occupying spaces designed for far fewer.
And while it is optimal to keep class sizes small, there are also a lot of issues with common spaces. That includes hallways, locker areas, cafeterias and bathrooms, as well as areas for gathering and group learning.
At Steamboat Middle School, there’s presently not enough space for P.E., sports, science labs, music and performing arts, and the kitchen and cafeteria are too small.
“Seven-hundred kids in the middle school frightens me,” White said.
The students deserve better, White added.
“What happens if the voters say no?” someone asked Meeks.
Class sizes will go up, Meeks said, and the district will have to purchase modulars. And all those common spaces — not designed for any more bodies — will only get tighter.
Another person commented they didn’t feel any of the proposed solutions addressed the needs at the high school.
Moving the high school has proved very unpopular in the past, Meeks noted, but there are projects included in the bond proposal to increase and enhance spaces at the high school, particularly for STEM and vocational-technical education.
The board meeting will begin at 4:30 p.m. Monday, May 20, at Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs.