School bond survey ending

RE1J school board looks for how much the county will support

With the last of the mail-in surveys that were distributed to 5,500 households throughout the county coming in, the RE1J school board is one step closer to gauging the public’s attitude toward the proposed bond issue going to voters in November.



After the June 12 deadline has passed, the data processing will take about two weeks, according to Paul Hanley, a senior vice-president for marketing with George K Baum and Company (GKB), the firm contracted to conduct the survey and help pass the bond, after which the board will know roughly how the $55 million to $65 million bond proposal sits with voters.
Urging people to return their completed surveys, Molly Illum, administrative assistant to superintendent Jon Nelson, explained, “The purpose of the survey is to find out if people would support a $2 million bond, a $20 million bond or a [$65 million bond]. . . .But if they don’t get a response, then they won’t know what to expect in November.”
GKB estimates that between 8 percent and 17 percent of the surveys will be returned. Any household that had someone vote in the 2004 general election or the 2006 general election, or has someone registered to vote in 2008 was expected to get a survey.
The mail-in survey is considered non-scientific, because there is no way of identifying the individuals who responded to it. Instead, the results of the survey will be held until the phone survey, scheduled to begin at the end of the month, has been completed because that will allow the surveyor to get general demographic data on the people responding, says Hanley.
Several of the survey questions are designed to get a better understanding of the county residents’ priorities in terms of the district’s infrastructural needs. Respondents are asked what level of priority should be placed on projects such as the bus barn relocation, building additional classrooms and a gymnasium at the Crested Butte Community School and improving safety and security throughout the district.
“I can sum up the need for the bond in just a few words,” says superintendent Jon Nelson. “The Crested Butte School was built for 350 students; next year there will be well over 500. Gunnison High School is a 1965 building that needs upgrades to bring it into the 21st century.”
The survey details some of those larger needs, saying “A major component of the overall bond package is an addition to and renovation of the 43-year-old Gunnison High School,” and “There is a significant need to address overcrowding and/or future enrollment growth at Crested Butte Community School, Gunnison Community School and Marble Charter.”
In Marble, the school is currently being forced to turn incoming students away to Carbondale due to a lack of space— a commute that can take two hours by school bus.
According to Stephanie Niemi, principal of the Crested Butte Community School, that school’s proposed expansion will house 16 additional classrooms, a new gymnasium and an expansion of the library, all of which are critical to the growing school.  
Another item being accounted for in the bond is the relocation of the district’s bus barn, which is “too small and dangerous for storing and maintaining school buses” and does not meet safety standards laid out by the Colorado Department of Education.
Last year, the board first considered a bond to be placed on the ballot after a district-wide facilities audit, conducted by Bahr, Vermeer and Haecker Architects (BVH), revealed that the maintenance needs that had been delayed by the district for various reasons had resurfaced and that, for certain items, the costs of replacing parts of the infrastructure would be less than repair.
At CBCS, this included the cost of replacing sidewalks, installing a rooftop snowdrift diverter and improving drainage around the building, which carried a price tag of around $136,000. That amount does not include an expansion of the school facility, which is not being calculated until the bond is passed.  
During the last school year, CBCS supported about 143 percent of the school’s design capacity and the number of students is expected to grow to more than 500 by next year, says Niemi. This has teachers holding classes in the school’s auditorium and any available space and leaves at least two teachers without classrooms of their own.
Another $34,500 would be required by the school to address “Life and Safety” concerns, such as installing smoke doors in stairwells and elevators and putting an emergency shutoff on the school’s boiler, among other things, according to BVH. That firm has since been replaced by the Grand Junction-based Blythe Group.
Previously, the district board considered placing the bond issue on the November 2007 ballot but decided that August that there had not been enough preparation and it was delayed a year. Just prior to that decision the district hired GKB, a financial company that specializes in bond initiatives.
Until voters pass the bond, the district owes the company nothing.  If a bond issue passed, the company charges a percentage of the bond based on the amount to be underwritten by the company.
“So far it has cost [the district] nothing because they are betting on the fact that they will pass the bond and then they’ll get their fees out of the bond,” says Nelson.
According to the survey, “The projected tax impact to district homeowners of the proposed bond issue is estimated to be between $3.64 and $4.46 per month per $100,000 of a home’s market value.”
The bond issue is different from the mil levy override for the school district that voters approved in 2004. The bond will pay for improvements to the district’s infrastructure, while the mil levy override helped pay for the operational needs of the district, like fuel for school buses and payroll.
“If we find out that the voters aren’t going to be supportive of the proposed bond then we’ll have to find out what the pieces are that [voters] won’t support and what they will support and at what level. Then we would probably structure a bond around what they like,” says Nelson.

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