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School district to put bond issue on ballot

The Archuleta School District 50 Joint Board of Directors held a special session Tuesday night to discuss pursuit of a bond issue in November that, if passed, will help pay to create a consolidated campus on the newly-purchased land adjacent to Pagosa Springs High School.

The board and audience heard from Ken Vickerstaff and Brett Locke of the facility steering committee, which, since January, has been researching the viability of building a consolidated campus.

Vickerstaff explained that, by putting the bond on the ballot for the Nov. 2 election, the move would give the committee, the board and the community a chance to further look into the details of the potential construction project.

Vickerstaff quoted numbers from a 2009 Archuleta School District Master Plan completed by architectural firm Blythe and Associates from Grand Junction. The numbers are dated and are merely ballpark figures. According to the master plan, it could cost $8.8 million to renovate the elementary school and $15.2 million to build a new one. For the middle school, it could cost $11.8 million to renovate and $25 million to build new.

The facility steering committee, as part of the research, interviewed several different finance, architectural and construction firms that might take this project on. The subcommittee agreed on Blythe and Associates for architectural design, Adolfson and Peterson for construction, and Stifel, Nicolaus & Company for public finance. Representatives of most of these firms will be in town next week. While here, they will establish hard numbers for remodel projects versus new construction and will hold several open meetings with community members. Following this process, with firm numbers in hand, the dollar amount for the bond issue can be established.

Most members of this team are to be in place only until the election, however, Stifel is locked in. If the bond issue passes at election, construction and architecture services will go out to bid.

?“What we’re asking is to have these companies tell us what we’re looking at for today’s standpoint,” Vickerstaff said.

The companies are asking only for money for room and board for their representatives during this period — estimated at $9,000.

To put the bond issue on the ballot will cost anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000.

Locke listed five benefits for putting the matter to the voters in November instead of waiting until next year: saving on rising costs; a projected small November ballot, which will allow the community to better debate the issue; the possibility of creating new schools sooner; more competitive timing for grants; and bringing jobs to the community.

“I remember 50 years ago talking about moving the schools off of 160. If not now, when?” board member Greg Schick said.

?Vickerstaff, on behalf of the facility steering committee, recommended that the board pass a motion to put the bond referendum on the ballot.

“Without a vibrant school system, we don’t have a vibrant economy,” Vickerstaff said.

Some of the complaints raised at the meeting about the current elementary and middle school buildings included safety issues due to the proximity with U.S. 160, problematic temperature regulation and leaky roofs, to name a few.

Superintendent Mark DeVoti told SUN staff in a later interview that the current school buildings can be safely occupied, but the longer the district waits, the more problems there will be to fix — and the more money it will cost to do so.

After discussing the safety issues of the current schools due to location and state of maintenance, the board passed the motion unanimously.

“What the board did was open the door for community engagement and discussion. Whether we have new schools is up to the community,” said DeVoti.

In the following weeks, there will be many open community meetings held. DeVoti encourages everyone in the community to come and “ask the hard questions.”

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