RFSD seeks $122 million

Roaring Fork School District will pursue a $122 million bond issue for major building improvements, the Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday night.

In contrast with the mill levy override passed in 2011, which provides additional operating money in perpetuity, the bond issue represents a fixed amount for capital improvements, to be used up front and paid back by the community over 20 years.

During that time, the owner of a $500,000 house would be taxed roughly $280 more annually.

The bond would address many needs identified in the recently approved facility master plan, which found at least $170 million in potential needs for the district.

At $34.5 million, or a quarter of the whole, the single largest expense would be the construction of a new pre-K to eighth-grade school along Highway 82 between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, ideally opening its doors in fall 2017.

Major renovations at Glenwood Springs Elementary represent another $20 million, while a $9 million state grant would cover the remaining cost for the project. Pending a potential land swap with the city of Glenwood Springs, construction could be completed as soon as 2018.

The issue also calls for improvements to every school in the district, as well as $5 million each in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt to provide affordable housing for teachers and staff. Specifically, the district hopes to purchase or construct between 15 and 20 units per community to serve as subsidized rental housing, beginning as soon as the next school year. Any income from the properties would go toward future district housing.

“We hope this is the beginning of something that will grow,” said Assistant Superintendent Shannon Pelland. “We’re losing some incredible teachers and not getting some amazing teachers that can’t find a place to live.”

Voters last approved a bond issue in 2004 with 61 percent approval. At the time, improvements to Glenwood Springs Elementary were postponed until 2009, then tabled because of the recession. While the new bond doesn’t represent the full amount of need identified in the facilities master plan, it is intended to be fairly comprehensive.

“We’ve modified some of the projects,” Pelland said. “We’re not doing everything that the master plan called out, but we aren’t completely eliminating any one project.”

It even lays the first groundwork for a school near Blue Lake with the purchase of extra land in the area.

After the vote Wednesday night, board member Karl Hanlon emphasized the importance of the projects involved.

“I think this is critical to the success of our district,” he said. “Really, it is reflective not just of our wants and desires as a board but of the needs of our communities and our schools.”