Students gain new middle school | AspenTimes.com

Students gain new middle school

John Colson

Local voters were in a generous mood on election day, passing almost every tax proposal on Tuesday’s ballot, including a $33 million plan to replace the aging Aspen Middle School.The school district’s voters also gave the Aspen School District permission to increase property taxes for school district operations to the tune of $700,000 per year. That ballot question, Referendum 3A, passed overwhelmingly, 2,664 to 1,208, winning a large margin of support in every precinct in the district.The district was not alone in its success. The city of Aspen, the Aspen Historical Society and Aspen Valley Hospital also had tax measures approved by voters. The only exception to the electoral largesse Tuesday was a proposal to build a new town hall in Snowmass Village, which the town’s voters turned down by a vote of 442-305.Referendum 3B, asking voter permission to build a new middle school and add classrooms to the elementary school, won in every precinct, passing by a comfortable margin of 2,155 to 1,698. Its only slip came with absentee voters, who rejected the idea, 99-75.”Obviously, we are so incredibly excited,” Superintendent Diana Sirko told a crowd of well-wishers Tuesday night at The Cantina in Aspen. “On behalf of the kids, I’d like to say … kids are the big winners in this.” She, too, was a winner Tuesday, taking home $16 in winnings from a betting pool among district personnel and consultants about the outcome of the election.As for the lopsided nature of the district’s money questions, Sirko said, “We were surprised.” Early polls showed only lukewarm voter support, particularly regarding the $33 million bond issue, and she said the district had expected to win by “less than 100 votes” if at all. She said district officials and volunteers were both out on election day, knocking on doors and urging voters to go to the polls until the last minute.She termed the election results an “overwhelming vote of confidence from the community,” and added, “We take this very seriously, and we’ll be very judicious in spending the community’s money.”The designers of the middle school project hope to start construction as soon as school lets out in the spring and finish in time for fall classes in 2007.In the meantime, Sirko said, the district will be working to fix the structural problems that have cropped up at the existing middle school.”You don’t want to put a lot of resources into a building you’re going to tear down,” she said, “but you have to make it habitable for the kids.”She said the “critical and crucial” repairs and upkeep will be done as needed while the district works on the new school, which will be built in an “L” shape around the existing school. Once the new school is finished, the old building will be torn down to make way for a new playground and outdoor recreation area.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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