by Bob Kennemer
LA VETA — While the identification of the problems with the facilities of La Veta schools has not been too difficult, finding a viable and affordable solution has been a time consuming and daunting task for the district’s facility committee.
For the past year the La Veta Board of Education Facilities Task Force has been researching various ways to deal with a big problem. That being, the current school campus is aging and in need of major remodeling. Or would it make more sense to build an entirely new campus? A third option would be to try and maintain the current school buildings, but as RE-2 Superintendent Bree Lessar put it in a December 2017 meeting, “No matter what, we will be coming to the public asking for money.”
At a facilities task force meeting earlier this month, several residents raised concerns ranging from a desire to keep and remodel the historical buildings at the current campus, to what would it be like to conduct classes in a construction zone for two years. Putting these and other concerns aside for a moment, the biggest concern are the projected costs. The facilities task force has determined that trying to patch the buildings year to year is akin to kicking the can down the road. At some point a major renovation will need to be done or a new campus will have to be built. Just to bring the existing buildings up to code would cost $10 million. Thus, the task force is working with two scenarios: “Option D” also called the “Garland Street Site,” involves keeping the existing campus, with remodeling and adding new facilities by closing Garland Street, which runs through the campus. This option would cost $36,658,888.
The new campus, to be located at the north end of town adjacent to the football field is called the “Greenfield Site.” The new campus would run about $5 million dollars less than the Garland site, coming in at $31,744,328. Either option would require securing a Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant, the application for which is due by February 23. A bond issue would also have to be passed for either option. The district’s match of the BEST grant is 33% of total project cost, so a $30 million project will require a match of $9.9 million, which the district cannot statutorily raise. If the district runs a bond, the most that can be raised is about $6.5 million. This is a legal limit, as schools cannot pass bonds for more than 20% of their district’s assessed valuation. RE-2’s valuation is currently about $33 million. The district may need to apply for a statutory waiver of the required match, but to get one, the BEST board will need to be highly supportive of the district’s course of action.
If RE-2 bonded all the way to its tax threshold or “bonding capacity” this would cost taxpayers approximately $115 per year for each $100K of assessed household property (rates would be different for businesses and agricultural). Both options are built for growth to a student population of 350 which is 25 students per class PK – 12. The current school population is 106 in PK through 5th grade, and 121 in junior and senior high school, for a total of 227 students. Either option can include updates to the football field and track. Both are designed for computers to be used in classrooms and common spaces rather than traditional computer labs. Both include space for art, and music practice and performance, science labs, vocational agriculture shop space, and teacher collaboration areas. Recent public meetings saw a variety of other issues. There is strong support for preserving the old gym. Both it and the elementary school are designated as historic structures. Several citizens felt the historical nature of the current campus was important. Conversely, several school teachers noted students could be involved with the new school by designing murals and other interior designs. Most teachers voiced concerns about the impact construction would have on instruction.
One elementary school teacher, who has taught at schools that were under construction noted morale goes down for both teachers and students. A two year construction schedule was called, “Terrifying!” La Veta resident Ken Saydak stated, “Trust what the teachers are telling you. If 100% of them are for the new campus, then go there.” Another issue, which was brought up by La Veta Mayor Doug Brgoch, was the possible negative impact of moving a school to the edge of town, citing studies that show keeping a school near the town center is beneficial. “It can kill a small town,” said Brgoch. Others felt having the school at the town’s entrance was a great introduction for people visiting the area. Resident Stirling Lathrop said, “The new school will recruit new people to La Veta. The quality of a town’s school makes a huge difference.” Teacher Rod Falk noted that getting students from the current campus to the new football field is a hassle now. He asked, “What do you want for your kids? What is best?” Falk went on to question if moving the school to the edge of town would dry the town up, or would the new school be appealing?
At the January 8, public meeting many new questions were posed by Mayor Brgoch and others, and many of those issues have yet to be resolved. Getting enough water to the new site may be a challenge. The need for sidewalks and possible turn lanes to the Greenfield Site are still being researched. What possible other costs may have been missed? In the end, more public input is needed. It is possible the BEST grant may not come through., or the bond issue may not pass. The current goal is to continue to gather community feedback, submit the grant, and support the bond issue. Soon the facilities committee will make a recommendation to the school board and the board will select the location.
Lastly, if all of this fails, the school board could try again next year.