Schools gauging support for construction | AspenTimes.com

Schools gauging support for construction

John Colson

A select number of voters in the Aspen School District will be asked this week how they feel about the idea of spending $33 million to replace Aspen Middle School and make a small number of improvements to Aspen Elementary School.The Aspen School Board will not make a final decision on whether to rebuild or replace the old middle school and ask for voter approval for a bond issue until some time in August. But the district administration decided this week that it would be good to gauge the public’s sentiments on some key questions.So a poll will be conducted this evening and Saturday evening by phone, in the wake of talks this week among the school’s architectural consultants, school administrators and members of the Assets Committee.The district has been wrestling with the question of how to handle needed improvements to Aspen Middle School, which was built in 1971 and is referred to by students, teachers and parents as “the dungeon.”Since December 2004, the debate has focused on whether the school should be remodeled or replaced.Superintendent Diana Sirko said at the Assets Committee meeting this week that consultants have estimated there is a $10 million difference between the cost of remodeling the old school and replacing it. Although she did not have exact figures with her, she recalled that the initial estimates were about $17 million and $27 million, respectively, although the costs may have risen due to inflation and the availability of more exact information about what is needed for the school.At the meeting, architect Paul Hutton of the Hutton Ford firm in Denver told committee members the architectural team, which includes Studio B Architects of Aspen, has come up with a plan to tear down the 83,000-square-foot middle school and replace it with a modern 103,000-square-foot building that makes more efficient use of space, is more energy efficient, has more windows and provides a roomier, more up-to-date educational environment.Hutton said the existing middle school is “very inefficient” in its use of space, meaning its “useable space” is about 60,000 square feet. Hutton said the new building would have a vastly bigger feel.Plans for the new middle school are still in flux, as teachers and designers collaborate on what would work best, although Hutton said somewhat finalized plans should be available in a matter of weeks.Sirko said the Aspen Elementary School is in need of five new classrooms, noting that some spaces in the 15-year-old building that were designed for specific uses are now being used as general classrooms. For example, she said, a dance studio with a $75,000 special floor is now carpeted and used as a classroom for one of the lower grades. The same is true, she said, of a music room and others.”Education is different now than it was 15 years ago,” she said, adding that one of the unanticipated needs is a classroom dedicated to Spanish language instruction.”We need to recapture those classrooms” for their specialized uses. She said the school’s capacity will still be the same – 550 students. “There is no net gain in classrooms.”Also included in the money for the elementary school, which is estimated at around $3 million, will be some improvements and cosmetic repairs to the District Theater, and upgrades to make the building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.And lastly, Sirko said, the district is planning to ask voters for a tax hike to provide $750,000 in additional operating revenues for the district as a whole.If approved by the school board, the bond and mill levy hike questions would be on the November general election ballot.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com