Basalt schools hope for an upgrade

Bob Ward
Aspen Journalism

All three Basalt public schools will get improvements and makeovers if voters approve a $122 million Roaring Fork School District bond proposal slated for the Nov. 3 election.

The district’s governing board agreed in late August to put the measure, which would raise local property taxes by $280 for owners of a $500,000 home, on the November ballot. For residents of Basalt and El Jebel, the package includes the following capital projects, which total nearly $34 million:

• A major, $13.6 million renovation of 40-year-old Basalt Middle School, including a new auditorium, enlarged “maker space,” new and more flexible classrooms and new lighting, windows, ventilation and more.

• $9.4 million in upgrades to Basalt High School, including a modified entryway, a small performance space and a new student commons.

• A $6.4 million renovation of Basalt Elementary School, including modernizations to the older, western flank of the building and the so-called red brick building, which would house a preschool.

• Folded into the budgets for the elementary and middle schools are funds for a major traffic and parking overhaul in the paved area between the schools. Removal of the on-site bus-storage facility would create more room.

• A $2.9 million bus-storage and maintenance center in El Jebel, on land recently purchased near JW Drive, would replace smaller bus facilities in Basalt and Carbondale.

• About $1.5 million would go to purchase additional land for a future school in Blue Lake. Since the school isn’t needed immediately, construction funding would come later.

A bond proposal of some size was virtually assured in May when the district learned that the state’s Building Excellent Schools Tomorrow program had allocated nearly $9 million to help renovate Glenwood Springs Elementary School. If the district fails to raise its local match of $20 million, then that state money, which comes in part from taxes on recreational marijuana, will go elsewhere.

“Once we got that grant, we realized that this was the time,” said Chief Financial Officer Shannon Pelland. “Plus, construction costs are escalating.”

The state grant for Glenwood Elementary represents $9 million out of $50 million awarded for school projects statewide.

As part of their yearlong Facilities Master Plan process, Roaring Fork School District officials identified $170 million in capital needs at their 12 school sites and associated buildings. Most but not all of those needs are included in the bond proposal, which would take 20 years to pay off.

“There’s never a right time to pursue all of this, but this really will put us in a good position for the future,” said board member Bob Johnson of Basalt.

The long-delayed elementary school project isn’t the biggest project on the district’s agenda. That distinction goes to Eastbank, a proposed new $34.5 million school for pre-k to eighth grade to be located near Orrison Distributing south of Glenwood. That site would serve the growing student population between Carbondale and Glenwood and would relieve crowding at existing Glenwood elementary and middle schools.

Carbondale also will get an infusion of nearly $23 million, including $9.8 for renovations to Carbondale Middle School and $5.3 million for Bridges High School and the Teacher Training Center.

The district will also allocate $15 million to affordable housing districtwide, with $5 million going to each community — Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood — to house teachers and other staff members.

“We’re losing some incredible teachers because they just can’t make ends meet here,” Pelland said.

The housing component of the plan may be the part that Johnson likes most.

“The commitment that the board has made to housing in all three communities is truly the anchor of this whole bond,” Johnson said. “If we can house, say, 15 to 20 teachers within each community, it would do volumes for our stability and our turnover rates.”

Johnson also is excited to move both the Basalt and Carbondale bus-storage facilities to a new, centralized location in El Jebel.

“If we’re able to get that (Basalt) bus facility relocated, it will add tremendously to traffic safety in the area,” he said.

Aspen Journalism and The Aspen Times are collaborating on education coverage. For more, go to


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