Town and school continue to hammer out land donation

Council voices several concerns

Choosing to pursue a more detail-laden document than a traditional Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA), the Crested Butte Town Council on Monday instructed the town staff to continue working with the school district to donate town land for a school expansion. The council gave the verbal okay to the district to break ground on the expansion this spring with or without a signed document, but they made it clear the town wants hard assurances that the project will be completed to town specifications.

 

Attorneys and staffs will continue to work out details of the guiding project document, described by officials on both sides as more of a construction contract than an IGA. Some specifics, such as surveys, won’t be possible to complete until the snow melts. “You are asking us to agree, to agree, to an agreement somewhere down the line,” concluded district superintendent Jon Nelson.
The property meant to be given to the school district won’t be officially conveyed until all the conditions of the contract are met. “We have concerns with the uncertainty,” said councilmember Skip Berkshire. “And we just want assurances that everything will be done. This train is moving real fast.”
After a lengthy closed-door executive session between the council and the town staff, mayor Alan Bernholtz told the school board president MJ Vosburg and superintendent Nelson that “We as a council want to continue the same relationship we’ve had with the schools. We are very near getting this done. It is certainly closer than it was two weeks ago but we still need to get over this hump. Apparently we have gone down a detailed path the last four months and I don’t want to scrap the work and the details.”
Bernholtz outlined several council concerns and requirements. He said the town wanted to give the district the amount of land they needed for this current expansion and no more.
“Let’s focus just on the land you need with this bond and this expansion,” he said. “Let’s keep it to the property you will be using at this time.”
Councilman Billy Rankin added that the town is looking at more than just the school expansion, and the lands to the south of the school could be used for future recreation projects. “Something as simple as five feet could be important to us down the line,” he explained.
Mike Archibold of the Blythe Group, the architect firm working for the school district, told the council his firm had already been able to pull back the proposal 25 feet from what was originally proposed.
Bernholtz said the second council concern was traffic flow around the school.
“We want a good comprehensive traffic study that has some solutions to the traffic situation over there,” he said. He indicated the council was leaning toward improving Ninth Street with pavement and a 60-foot right-of-way. “Traffic mitigation is a priority for us,” said Bernholtz.
“The site won’t immediately be accommodating the 750 students it is meant to hold,” explained Nelson. “Our intent is to get rid of the burdensome traffic spots and move them around the site.”
Several homeowners from the area attended the meeting and spoke to the dangerous traffic situation.
“What happens on Red Lady Avenue is embarrassing,” said Dave Ochs. “To pave Ninth Street and make it more of a thoroughfare could be a nightmare. The plows and snow trucks come barreling through there at about 30 miles per hour on their way to dump snow at the gravel pit behind the school and some don’t stop at the stop signs. It can be a mess.”
Neighbor Christa Hildebrandt agreed. “It is embarrassing and dangerous,” she said. “One thing that needs addressed is putting a barrier between the playground areas and the street. A fence or at least some shrubs is needed. You have to find a way to keep the kids in the playground and off the streets.”
Diana Graves lives on Ninth Street and described it as crazy. “Safety is a big issue. When the kids leave school in the afternoon it can be terrifying. Pedestrians, bikes, kids, moms, sleds, cars, trucks are all in the mix. We don’t want to see kids injured over there.”
Bernholtz said the town and district were considering every avenue of traffic mitigation including traffic circles (a.k.a. roundabouts) at Seventh and Red Lady, turning lanes from Highway 135, and a new road to the west of the current track.
Councilperson Kimberley Metsch asked the school district to pay special attention to the concerns of the neighbors about traffic.
“We’ll do what we can and we want to address the issue, but there is a school there, and there will be traffic,” said Vosburg.
The third town concern voiced by Bernholtz was the risks associated with the town in the conveyance of the property. Town attorney John Belkin explained that “the school has to be responsible for making changes the town requires.”
Nelson said he didn’t want the district to be responsible for making changes that were “outside the bond issue.”
“That makes sense and is reasonable,” said Bernholtz.
“It is a huge leap of faith on both our parts. We understand that,” added Vosburg.
The next concern was a catch-all list to be included in the document.
Town manager Susan Parker wanted a list that explained all the things to be done by the district. A sewer pump lift station, for example, has to be moved. Seven buildings—instead of what was thought to be two—need to be moved if a certain configuration for the new Tommy V. baseball field is selected.
The final council requirement was assurance in the form of a fund set aside to guarantee completion of projects associated with the expansion. The district has already agreed to open a similar fund for Tommy V. relocation expenses.
“It is important to the council that everything is completed and paid for,” said Bernholtz.
Berkshire said that while the internal parts of the expansion seemed near final plan, there is “uncertainty with the externals. It seems there is enough uncertainty that we need some assurance you won’t run out of money. We would be comfortable if you provide some financial assurance in the form of a letter of credit or a bond or whatever. The other option would be to complete the plans with a solid budget. I think we need a mechanism to have financial assurance that the job will get done. Things like the ball field, traffic mitigation and other unknowns are hanging out there.”
Nelson said that it didn’t appear that any IGA would be signed within the next few weeks. By that time, he hoped that more solid plans and a concrete budget would meet the request of what Berkshire and the council desired.
“I am okay with that level of clarity if our staff is comfortable with the budget,” Berkshire said. “Right now, it’s not there.”
Bernholtz ended the discussion on a positive note. “Let’s get this thing going. We are all on the same page here,” he said. “I think the process has been painful because we don’t do this all the time.”

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