Children deserve new middle school | AspenTimes.com

Children deserve new middle school

There are credible arguments for voting against the $33 million bond question from the Aspen School District.The cost of construction materials has shot up in response to Hurricane Katrina, creating uncertainty about whether the project can be completed at the advertised price tag.And difficult questions about enrollment of out-of-district students, not to mention the potential student load from the Burlingame affordable housing project, have yet to be fully explored. Taken together, these issues make some wonder whether the proposed middle school is big enough.In addition, district officials did not work hard enough to educate the community about their vision. True, they’ve been talking about upgrading the middle and elementary schools for more than a year, but the conversation never adequately included the public at large. When they decided last summer that the solution was $33 million for a new middle school and upgrades to the elementary school, it came as a shock to many Aspenites.All that said, The Aspen Times backs the district’s request. Aspen Middle School is in a sorry state. Along with a troublesome roof, its plumbing has become a serious problem in recent years, with water bubbling up through drainpipes in the basement and spewing forth between walls where the pipes have corroded. There is no reason the district should invest in extensive repairs at a middle school that will need to be replaced anyway in 10 or 15 years, when the 50-year life of the building is up.The need for a new middle school outweighs the cost risks associated with Hurricane Katrina. There is no way to predict the length or extent of Katrina’s effect on the cost of steel, cement, wood and other materials. But the biggest reason for supporting construction of a new middle school, and the investment of several million dollars to expand and upgrade Aspen Elementary, is the children. With a school district that is excellent on so many fronts, it makes no sense to have children learning in substandard facilities.The middle school was built in the early 1970s, according to now-outdated building design and teaching concepts. Efforts to reconfigure the space inside have been only partially successful. The elementary school was built in the early 1990s and has had significant problems since the day it opened. The roof has always leaked. Overcrowding in the elementary school means that rooms designed for activities such as music and art are being used for regular classes. The building was designed to accommodate additional classrooms, which are needed now.The district has put together a thoughtful plan that allows middle schoolers to continue studying in their old building while a new one is built. The plan also is flexible about the way the money is spent, to ensure the most important work is completed despite any unexpected cost increases. The middle school has top priority, followed by improvements to the elementary school. Planned upgrades to the District Theatre in the elementary school would be scrapped first if construction costs are unexpectedly high.Aspen’s children deserve better. Vote yes on Referendum 3B.