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School bond question raises issues

Aspen Times Staff Report

There is so little organized opposition to the Nov. 7 school bond question that for a forum on the issue last night, no one showed up to sit on the “con” side of the room.

Nevertheless, the 15 or so citizens who stuck it out to the final segment of the forum were treated to a thoughtful and, at times, intriguing exploration of the question and the school district’s reasoning behind the question.

Pitkin County Referendum 3A asks voters to allow the Aspen School District to borrow $41 million to renovate and expand the 35-year-old Aspen High School.

Of that total, more than $26 million will be spent on a new, 110,000-square-foot high school building; $8 million on renovation of the 60,000-square-foot existing building; $5.3 million on “site work” around the campus on Maroon Creek Road; $590,000 on improvements to the district bus barn; and $840,000 on repairs to the elementary and middle school buildings.

Former Mayor Bill Stirling wanted to know, however, why the district did not choose to remodel the existing Colorado Mountain College building next to the high school, which is soon to become vacant, and build a much smaller building than the planned new high school as a way to meet the school’s growing needs without incurring so much debt.

He also asked why the school’s plans don’t include employee housing for teachers somewhere on the campus. His question was seconded by a local journalist wondering why the district is not being held to the same standards as a private developer in terms of “mitigation” requirements that include provisions of affordable housing.

School officials also were questioned about the need for such an expensive and huge expansion, since the size of the high school’s student population today is only slightly larger than it was in the late 1970s.

The question

At the start of the discussion, AHS Principal Kendall Evans and school bond committee member Jeanne Doremus described the two-year process that led up to the referendum question and the planned renovation and expansion.

They explained that the existing building leaves seven teachers without classrooms of their own, meaning they “float” from room to room throughout each school day, and there are no rooms at all for art, music and drama classes.

In addition, the officials said, the classrooms are too small by state standards; the gymnasium facilities are also too small, given the fact that half the school’s student body takes part in sports activities; the plumbing is “outdated” and the entire building is not “ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] accessible.”

Other problems include a leaking roof, n See School on page 16-A

n continued from page 3-A

a general building design that prevents adequate security measures from being installed and “site safety issues” involving the movement of students across Maroon Creek Road, Evans said.

The new building, if approved by the voters, is to have a classroom for every teacher; a new, larger gym in addition to the existing one; new offices for Evans and Superintendent Tom Farrell (the superintendent’s office has been in a “temporary” Quonset hut for 12 years); a 130-seat lecture hall; and a “fine arts wing” that will allow students to take music, art and drama classes within the high school instead of in CMC or one of the other schools on campus.

It also is to be built according to “green” construction principles, meaning it is to be as energy-efficient as possible given the constraints of school design standards.

Evans and Doremus also said that taxpayers will not be hit hard if this question is approved, explaining that, according to estimates, the tax bill on a million-dollar house will rise by $146 per year. The two also noted that local taxpayers have one of the lowest school tax rates in the state, a distinction that will not change with passage of the bond question.

As for the questions put to them at the forum, Evans said the renovation of the CMC building was investigated and determined not to be “cost effective.” Both Evans and Farrell cited the desire to build a school that “the students can be proud of,” a goal they said can best be met by new construction rather than rehabilitating old buildings.

They also said the school district has been making progress in obtaining housing for teachers. Evans noted that the district now owns 28 employee units rented to teachers, with 10 more in the works, compared with only two in 1995. Plus, he said, it would be too “difficult” to mix housing with the functions of the schools campus.

The construction schedule for the project is from June 2001 through January 2003, and Evans and Farrell reassured skeptics that they had learned from mistakes made in construction of the elementary school several years ago and had hired architects and contractors who would not repeat those mistakes.

The forum is to be aired on Grassroots Television several times between today and election day, Nov. 7.


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