CBCS expansion estimated to cost between $30 million to $60 million

District and citizens looking at five options

by Mark Reaman

As enrollment in the Crested Butte Community School continues to grow each year, the Gunnison Watershed School District board of directors is in the midst of investigating the best way to alleviate that growth pressure.

An informal advisory group made up of about 30 local citizens, staff administration, students and teachers has been meeting regularly to begin discussing the issue in depth. The school district has hired RTA Architects of Colorado Springs to plan a possible expansion of the Crested Butte school facility. They presented five primary options on March 3 that included additions to the current facility as well as constructing new school buildings located somewhere else in the north valley.

“If you look at the trend of the last four or five years, there has been growth of 20 to 25 students each year at CBCS and we think it will continue,” said RTA’s Brian Calhoun. “This year, enrollment already exceeds the capacity of the building and that’s why there are modulars being used right now.”

Calhoun said the current facility capacity is 762 students. The 2022 projection is anticipated to be 787 students. The maximum target capacity of the CBCS campus is about 1,000 students, which would average approximately 84 students in each grade, requiring three to four classrooms per grade.

The five options presented to the advisory committee by Calhoun ranged from somewhat modest additions and renovations to the current school to building a new junior and senior high school at a different location. Estimated costs range from about $30 million to $60 million. As part of the process, the board is considering what sort of bond issue to present to voters in order to pay for the project.

Calhoun went over several expansion alternatives at the March 3 meeting.

Option A would build additions to the current community school as well as renovate the existing space.

Option B would be to build a new primary school separate from the current facility but on the current campus.

Option C would be to make minor additions to the current facility and also build a new primary school on a new site that could handle about 240 K-2 students.

Option D would be to build a new elementary school for K-5 at a new location. That would take in about 290 students but some elementary students would remain at the current facility.

Option E would be to build a new school that handles grades 7-12 on a new site. That should accommodate between 400 and 500 students and would be the most expensive option at approximately $60 million. That estimate includes potential land costs but Calhoun admitted that the real estate price was a guess, given the market and need for several acres of land on which to build a new facility.

The needed acreage varies depending on the grades being served. Ideally at least 15 acres is needed for a new junior/senior high school, with about eight to 10 acres required for an elementary K-5 facility and approximately six to eight acres for a primary K-2 school.

School district superintendent Leslie Nichols said the Re1J has had “very early discussions” about evaluating what private property might be available in the north valley to purchase for a new school site. She admitted that adding a new school at a different site would lose efficiencies with administration. While growth would require more staff, Nichols said having everything under one roof is more efficient. She said the district was also analyzing where students are living in the valley. That could impact where a separate school site might be located.

The advisory group saw pros and cons with each option. The idea of breaking up the campus with two different sites for school facilities and thus weakening the ideal of a single community school site was disturbing to many. Building a top-of-the-line modern school facility in one swoop appealed to many people as well. “We should go for the gusto if we can,” said Suzanne Pierson, who as a former music teacher saw the benefits of a new school during her tenure as a teacher. “Doing something new could be incredible for us instead of making piecemeal improvements.”

Calhoun said that while the current school was not out-of-date, it was getting old and was built without modern technology and safety features. “It’s a fairly traditionally designed school with the individual classroom model,” as opposed to more modern group learning spaces, he noted.

Mark Tardiff pointed out the goal of Crested Butte was to be carbon neutral by 2030 so that could come into play during the decision. Calhoun said there is better opportunity to be more “sustainable” with a new building instead of retrofitting the existing facility.

“Let’s all be aware of the future and potential blips with the economy and enrollment,” advised Joni Windsor.

“The future is an unknown,” agreed Calhoun.

The meeting ended with a text message poll of the people in the room. The preferred option was overwhelmingly Option A at 55 percent, with Option E coming in second, tallying 27 percent.

Calhoun said Option A was likely the least expensive alternative at about $30 million and E was the most expensive at approximately $60 million. He said Option A would result in much less open space on the current campus but it was the favorite in terms of keeping the school consolidated. He said that would mean students would “live with construction” for about a year and a half.

Option E was the “whole enchilada” that could handle more students for the longest period of time. It would take a new 12- to 15-acre site to accommodate things such as performance spaces and gymnasiums for older high school students. Under that option, the K-6 or K-5 students would likely remain in the current building that would also be renovated. Calhoun said part of the process with Option E was to quickly investigate land purchase potential.

While Option E was the most expensive, Calhoun said it would also be a three- to four-year process before such a new facility was opened if a property tax increase was approved by voters. A mill levy increase would likely be voted on in 2021.

The next CBCS design meeting is scheduled for April 2 at the school, followed by another planning meeting on April 29.

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