School district begins next steps with 5A facilities expansion

“Hope to be breaking ground in summer 2023”

By Kendra Walker

With the passing of local ballot issue 5A, the $95 million property tax increase that will fund building expansion, safety upgrades and facility improvements, the Gunnison Watershed School District is now moving forward with next steps for the project. 

“Big kudos to our folks who worked so hard on the campaign,” school district superintendent Leslie Nichols told the school board during their Monday, November 14 meeting. “Now we’re ready to go and we have the promise of a huge investment in our brick-and-mortar facilities to lead as a legacy and improve the working conditions of our teachers and the education opportunities for our kids in the Gunnison Valley. It’s a big deal and congratulations to our community and to you all.”

Nichols said the district will now work to engage an owner’s representative and then architectural and contractor services. A selection committee will review applications and choose approximately three finalists for interviews, said Nichols. “Then we’ll negotiate with the top finalist for the work and that team will assist us with every aspect of this large project,” she said. 

Nichols also shared with the Crested Butte News, “A more detailed design process will follow, and our teachers’ and community members’ voices will be critical there. If all goes well, we hope to be breaking ground in summer 2023. We approach this work with a great sense of stewardship to our community, and humility knowing the scope of the project and its impacts.”

Nichols noted to the board that the start and completion of the full initiative will depend on the contractor the district eventually hires, but the bigger projects such as the Crested Butte Community School expansion, would be slated to be done earlier. Nichols said the goal for final project completion is targeted for the end of summer 2026. 

Nichols also acknowledged the reality that about half of the community voted no on the project. “I am very empathetic to folks who will feel a financial stress to this bond issue,” she said. “It also means that we will be very sensitive to input on these projects. We will continue that strong effort to be as transparent as possible with how those dollars are being spent. It’s a huge trust and confidence that our community has placed in us, and a large part of our community isn’t feeling great about this project. It’s a challenge that I do look forward to.”

“This was an incredibly close decision and I think it puts a hyper-responsibility on our school board to make sure this project is done well and that we make the best use of taxpayer funds,” said board member Dave Taylor. “Half of our taxpayers are skeptical of the project in general. I’m glad we have the pressure on us to do this right.” 

He continued, “We need to show those that are skeptical of public education in today’s world…that we’re putting in the effort to increase our scores and send our students out knowing they can do math, they can read, and they can write at their grade level.”

Board president Tyler Martineau added, “The bottom line on the assessment testing that we do every year as a district is academic achievement and academic growth. That is the bottom line with which we measure what this school district is doing. I want to emphasize that is already being done. The question is how do you get there. How do you produce the best academic results? That’s not a simple answer and that’s where people don’t always agree right now.”

Nichols chimed in,” One piece of how we get there is lowering the stress of our staff by having them feel better about how people enter and exit our buildings with more secure entrances, and it’s having enough classroom space in Crested Butte so we’re not on top of each other and teaching in the hallway, and it’s having classrooms that heat and cool properly at Gunnison Community School so we’re not wasting energy and focus on wearing jackets and hats in classrooms, and wasting money on utilities so we can pay our people as best as we can.”

She concluded, “This facilities work that we’re doing is not some isolated piece of a school district. It is essential. We’re being sure that our humans in our buildings have what they need to teach and learn. It is about our kids’ achievement and growth in the end.”

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