Tough decisions loom for schools if 3B fails, superintendent says
What will happen if voters say no to the Aspen School District’s plans for both a new middle school and a number of repairs to the 15-year-old elementary school next door?The district would have to appoint a task force to answer that question and related issues.The answers will be tied into the fate of Referendum C, which would permit the state government to keep excess tax revenues for the next five years by suspending the taxing and spending limitations imposed by the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, known as TABOR.That’s what district officials said when asked last week if they had a backup plan should the voters turn down Referendum 3B on the Nov. 1 ballot.The district is seeking permission to borrow $33 million to replace the 35-year-old middle school. The funds would also go toward work on the elementary school, including fixing the leaky roof, building five new classrooms and updating the facilities at the District Theater facility.Superintendent Diana Sirko, asked about the Aspen district’s options in the event of voter rejection, replied that if 3B fails, and the state’s voters turn down Referendum C, “You’re going to have a whole lot of cuts to do.”If 3B fails but C passes, she said, the district will likely be in line for some state assistance to at least fix the elementary and middle school roofs, and work on the middle school’s deteriorating plumbing.”There’s a lot of tough, tough decisions” that will have to be made, Sirko said. “We wouldn’t have done this [put 3B on the ballot] if we wouldn’t have felt there really is a critical need to make [the middle school] inhabitable for kids.”In making those tough decisions, she said, the district likely would put together a task force to study options. She said the district could likely go back to the voters in a year, either with a revised plan for replacing the middle school or a proposal for remodeling the building, similar to the $14 million plan that was considered last year.That plan was rejected by a district assets committee looking at options for the middle school, based on a conclusion that the middle school would need to be replaced anyway within a decade or so.But having a task force study the options would leave the middle schoolers in a dilapidated, deteriorating building for another two years or more, Sirko said.”I don’t want people to feel like we’re trying to scare them into voting,” she said, “but I’m worried about where the money is going to come from” should 3B not pass.As an example of the problems at the middle school, Sirko cited a May 2005 inspection of the mechanical and electrical systems by an engineering firm. The inspection revealed that the building’s boiler plant was replaced two years ago and is in good condition. But “there are several other basic building mechanical systems which need to be replaced,” according to the inspection report.Those include rooftop heating, ventilation and air conditioning units, restroom exhaust systems and kitchen exhaust equipment.The report also noted that “the building is not equipped with a fire protection sprinkler system” and that building authorities “will likely require a fire protection system be provided with any future renovation or addition.”Sirko also said that the deterioration of the building’s plumbing fixtures is “a generalized concern across the entire building.” Maintenance workers have dealt with sewage bubbling up through classroom floors due to blocked pipes, and the inundation of a brick wall when a section of sewer pipe disintegrated due to corrosion, she said.”I don’t want them to feel their child won’t have a safe place to go to school,” Sirko said, “but I’m seriously worried about flushing those toilets” without some significant work on the plumbing.She stressed that the district will be working on the problems regardless of the fate of the bond question. But she noted that “you’re lucky to get the money to fix the things that are broken right now,” much less the funds for extensive preventative maintenance projects.Asked what he believes the district might do if 3B is rejected, outgoing school board member Fred Peirce said the district has “$3 [million] or $4 million in reserve. If the bond goes down, we’ll have to tap into that money.”Then the question, he said, would be how much of the reserves to spend down before going back to the voters for additional money.John Colson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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