School board looks for public support on fall ballot question

“We’re trying to get the best bang for the buck”

The Gunnison Watershed RE1J School District is getting its cards in order for the anticipated school improvements bond issue on the November 2008 ballot. The district board has hired an architectural firm to design needed infrastructure and solidify a final cost for an estimated $30 million or more in proposed improvements before the ballot question is finalized, and is in the process of sending out additional educational mailings and public surveys.

 

 

The school district board discussed the upcoming bond issue during a regular meeting at the Crested Butte Community School on Monday, April 7.
“It’s really starting to happen,” board president M.J. Vosburg said of the ballot issue.
The school board started identifying major needs at its facilities in the winter of 2006 and hoped to ask Gunnison County voters to approve a special bond issue in November 2007.
Specifically, it identified priorities that include major remodeling of the aging Gunnison High School (or a new school altogether); facility shortcomings at the Gunnison Valley School; overcrowding at the Crested Butte Community School; and replacing the existing district bus barn.
The board hired Nebraska-based Bahr, Vermeer, and Haecker Architects (BVH) to conduct a facility audit cost analysis. BVH estimated the total renovations needed for the district, with the option of renovating the existing Gunnison High School, would come to approximately $32 million, with some money built in for inflation. The firm estimated the cost of a separate, new high school at nearly $30 million.
After spending the summer of 2007 investigating facility problems at its schools, the Gunnison RE1J school board decided last August that it would not move ahead with a bond initiative for the November 2007 election, citing the need for more pre-planning and public education.
This winter the board began strategizing on the best ways to win support for the ballot issues, with one of the questions concerning whether a new high school should be built, along with further refinements to the list of improvements needed at the schools.
On Monday night, superintendent Jon Nelson began by giving an update on the progress of selecting an architectural firm to design the improvements and provide a final cost to be listed on the upcoming bond issue.
Board member Bill Powell said part of the architectural design process would be to determine the most cost-effective improvements.
Nelson said requests for qualifications had been sent to 38 firms, from which the district received 10 responses. Nelson said the responses had been viewed by himself, board members, school principals and other district faculty.
From the 10 responses, Nelson said, they interviewed five firms, finishing up last week.
“Our consensus was to go with Blythe Group out of Grand Junction,” Nelson said.
Blythe Group and Co., is an architectural design, engineering, and project management firm that has worked on school improvements projects in Grand, Garfield and Archuleta counties, among others. “They’re very aware of the things we’re looking at and the concerns around some of those things,” Nelson said.
“They will perform a couple of different functions for us. They’re an architectural firm, but will also serve as an owner’s representative,” Nelson said. He explained that the firm would design needed improvements and deal with hiring separate construction firms and coordinating with the school district throughout the project.
Nelson said a few years ago Mesa County passed a $109 million bond issue for capital improvements. With Blythe Group’s help, the county saved $14 million for other improvements, Nelson said.
They also work fast—“The turnaround is pretty quick,” Nelson said of construction, citing an elementary school that Blythe Group gutted and rebuilt over the course of a summer.
Board member Terri Wenzlaff asked if the group would consider local construction companies.
Nelson said Blythe Group may hire locally to some extent, depending on the type of work being done.
Wenzlaff asked how long it would take to get a refined estimate of the cost for specific improvements. She said that information would be useful in the board’s public educational efforts.
Nelson said it would take about 30 days following the board’s approval for a refined estimate of costs, and the board could have better architectural information by August, leaving enough time to finalize ballot language.
Vosburg then gave an update on the board’s efforts to inform the public of the bond issue. She said the board had sent out its first informational  letter along with a summary of the facility audits. Vosburg said board members were  starting to get responses from the individuals who received the mailings. “We’re getting positive and questioning comments. There are supporters and concerned people… That’s the discussion we want in the community,” she said.
But Vosburg said there was more public persuading yet to be done. “Now our plan is to develop two pieces of collateral that is further information on why we are considering this (bond),” Vosburg said.
She said the informational mailings will go to voters in succession in early May. Over the course of three weeks the board will send out the two different informational packets and then a final survey.
Board member Anne Hausler had heard concerns from the business community and civic organizations that weren’t contacted or hadn’t received a mailing yet. She said the board would be meeting with additional groups in coming months.
Hausler also said the district was working on a formula so everybody, including individuals and businesses, could calculate their exact tax liability from the bond issue before the election.
Vosburg warned that as the new mailings are sent out and more responses are made, there could be some difficult decisions for the board to make. “The first things that are going to come at us are the strong, hard questions,” she said.
Hausler agreed. “We wouldn’t have as good a bond issue if we didn’t get those tough questions. If we don’t know about them, we can’t deal with them.”
Vosburg said, “Keep your heads up. It will be a long process. We will mold this bond issue to what our community is willing to support.”
Powell agreed. “We’re trying to get the best bang for the buck for the taxpayer.”

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