Friday, September 18, 2020

School district seeks public feedback on improvements

Crested Butte site ready for another expansion

by Mark Reaman

Improvements to all four main sites of the Gunnison Watershed School District are in order, but it is the Crested Butte Community School that appears to need a major expansion in the near future, given student population projections.

The Re1J school district has started a series of public engagement meetings to look at the conceptual designs for the district campuses. The first for Crested Butte was held on January 29.

“The work in Crested Butte is exciting and challenging,” school superintendent Leslie Nichols told about 25 citizens, teachers and students at the meeting. “This is the beginning of a process to look over the master plan that was finished in 2018 and get feedback from the community.”

Brian Calhoun of Colorado Springs-based RTA Architects spent an hour leading the discussion and going over the recently drafted master plan. “This is the beginning of a transparent process and an opportunity for the public to get involved. We want to figure out the general needs for each school in the district and then design improvements to match those needs. Now is the time to validate the identified needs. The master plan is the starting point.”

Future meetings in Crested Butte are scheduled for March 3, April 2 and April 29. Calhoun said a design package would be completed by August and that would be followed by discussion on how to fund the improvements that would probably entail a request of voters for a mill levy increase bond issue. If approved, construction would commence.

While enrollment trends across the district seem relatively flat, in Crested Butte there seems to be a regular increase of 25 to 28 students each year. Calhoun said the consultants hired to evaluate the trend predicted that will continue for the foreseeable future.

The enrollment prediction for CBCS in 2022 is 787 students. The school building capacity is 762 students. As of the end of January 2020 there were 769 students in the school. “We already anticipate the need for another modular classroom,” Calhoun said.

Calhoun noted the district was estimated to have approximately $7 million in deferred maintenance needs. “That’s actually fairly low compared to other districts, but they are real needs,” he said.

“We are in good condition as far as deferred maintenance as a district and we continue to chip away at the issues,” added Nichols. She noted a major project is the replacement of a roof at the Gunnison Community School.

As for the Crested Butte site, Calhoun said immediate needed improvements would include better security at the entrance; a better main office location; a better parking lot configuration along with playground improvements; and a better cafeteria.

“But the big issue for the Crested Butte Community School is the growth,” Calhoun said. “Through the master plan process of options there is the option of building a new school on the current campus or building an elementary school at another site. For the current campus there is probably a max of about 1,000 students, so the campus is limited.” Calhoun said that would be a larger discussion at the next meeting.

Overall, doing everything in the master plan would cost the district about $54 million. Of that, the CBCS needs about $30 million based on the needed expansion.

“These estimates are very conceptual at this point and the site-based design work will allow us to further narrow our focus and confirm our needs,” said Nichols.

“The task now is to bring more specifics to definitions in the master plan and that will really determine the dollar amounts,” Calhoun said. “The path forward is to review and validate the master plan options before us and then we will make recommendations for the future to the school board.”

Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt said he wanted to make sure the design firm understood the relationship between the school and the town and in particular the role the Board of Zoning and Architectural Review (BOZAR) would play. Calhoun said he understood that relationship.

Councilwoman Laura Mitchell asked if CDOT (the Colorado Department of Transportation) would be part of the project, considering the already crowded intersection of Highway 135 and Red Lady Avenue. Calhoun said he wasn’t sure of the answer to that question but anticipated CDOT would be giving input. Nichols said that would be part of the decision making process on where to build a possible CBCS expansion.

When asked if the architects would consider building a high school instead of an elementary school somewhere else in the north end of the valley, Calhoun said that would mean a lot of additional cost. “A new high school is a much larger endeavor,” he explained. “It would go from probably a $30 million project for Crested Butte to $90 million. You need a lot more space for things like auditoriums and parking, for example. An elementary school is the more economic option to build.”

School board member Tyler Martineau reminded the public that a copy of the master plan being discussed is loaded and available to view on the district’s website.

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