EDITORIAL: If You Build It, They Will Pay… Part Five

Read Part One

We’ve been focusing, in the last couple of installments of this article series, on an Archuleta Board of County Commissioners’ discussion about road maintenance, but roads are only a part of the total “Failing Infrastructure” issue that currently plagues the entire nation. As part of his campaign, Republican candidate Donald Trump assured his supporters that, if they elected him, he would “Make America Great Again.” That promise, although somewhat vague in its details, appeared to include the repair and improvement of the nation’s “soon-to-be-great-once-more” publicly-supported infrastructure: our roads, bridges, power grids, airports, docks, water lines, sewer treatment facilities, mass transit, parks, government buildings…

And our school facilities.

Locally, we had a chance to ponder the issue of school facilities for about 60 minutes, on April 11, when two consultants from Colorado-Springs-based RTA Architects — Douglas Abernethy and Stuart Coppedge — delivered a Powerpoint slide show around the idea that the Archuleta School District will continue to grow its enrollment, in some fashion, over the next five to ten years. Presumably, this growth would have some kind of impact on the district’s facilities and infrastructure needs.

The data presented by the two consultants had been generated by a third party, a demographer named Shannon Bingham, the owner of Boulder-based Western Demographics, and something of an expert, apparently, on school enrollment projections.

Mr. Bingham was not present on April 11, but his work appeared on a large screen, for all to view and consider. The first slide provided an overview of the situation, wherein the Archuleta School District saw an enrollment increase of about 196 students between 2015 and 2017, giving the district a total student body of about 1568. Around 100 of those students are actually New Mexico residents, who presumably attended the Dulce, NM schools prior to 2016.

This enrollment means the district this year has about 171 more students than they had in 2011. Based on that increase, and numerous other “demographic” factors, Mr. Bingham’s report predicted a district wide growth — including the new charter elementary school — of maybe 350 more students over the next five years, which would be an enrollment increase of about 20 percent.

To quote some wording from this slide:

“Approximately 352 additional students (medium scenario) are expected during the next five years (including district sanctioned charter schools) as the positive economy continues and families continue to find the Pagosa area an attractive location to raise a family.”

Of course, if we remove the surprising influx of New Mexico students from the mix, the growth from 2011 through 2016 is only about 75 students — an increase of about 1 percent per year, over a five-year period. Meanwhile, the Archuleta School District enrollment, back in 2006, was 1,635, so — if we don’t count the New Mexico students — we are still 10 percent below the district’s 2006 enrollment.

According to my previous research, the school district was not yet close to “building capacity” in 2006 — although we are hearing, from educational consultants, that 25-year-old school buildings may have been constructed for the wrong “type” of education, and because we now want to deliver “21st century learning,” we should probably remodel and enlarge our school buildings. Or build totally new schools.

As part of making America great again.

Meanwhile, the overall population of Archuleta County has been rather stagnant since 2006, in terms of growth, although Mr. Bingham wants us to believe that families will move to the community at a much faster rate, over the next five years or so, as they discover the increasingly unaffordable cost of housing in the community.

Growth.  No matter what.

In this next slide, you can see the county-wide population flat-lining from 2006 through 2014, with a slight increase in the past couple of years. (These are, however, mostly “demographic guesses” about the population, because the next Census is still three years away.)  Then the curve heads upwards, as part of Mr. Bingham’s “growth projection.”  As we can see, Mr. Bingham proposes a 2021 population of more than 14,000 full-time residents.

Back in Part Three of this article series, I mentioned an article recently published in Tradeline magazine, which discussed “recapitalization.” From that article:

Sooner or later, most real estate or corporate facilities managers become very concerned with the issue of recapitalization rates. They may find that their historical way of budgeting for recapitalization has suddenly become totally inadequate, leaving them unable to put forth a rational budgeting argument to the people from whom you hope to get the money to fix the situation.

Here’s a working definition of the term “recapitalization” as it applies to buildings:

“Recapitalization is the replacement of building subsystems, which include among other things roofs, electrical distribution equipment, HVAC equipment (air handlers, compressors, chillers, boilers), building control systems, paving, and fire protection apparatus.”

If you don’t agree with this definition, at least in spirit, if not in exactitude, then read no further, because this paper is not for you. If you would rather use the term “capital renewal” in place of “recapitalization,” that’s perfectly okay as long as you ascribe to the notion that what is being addressed is the replacement of building subsystems.

The authors of this article suggest that around 4 percent of the original building cost should be budgeted annually for “recapitalization.”  That’s “annually.” As in, “every year.”

If the case of private industry, “the people from whom you hope to get the money to fix the situation” might be the CEO or maybe the Finance Department — but ultimately, the money comes from the sales of products and services that the consuming public choose to purchase.

In the case of public infrastructure, the money ultimately comes from taxes and fees, but the decisions about how to spend money on maintenance and capital renewal are made by a government board, sometimes based on advice coming from the Finance Department and other government departments, as the case may be.

During the 20 years between 1970 and 1990, the population of Archuleta County increased by about 2,000 people — slightly more that our total School District enrollment in 2006. But during that same time, most of the 320 miles of County road were constructed (by developers, pinching pennies) and were accepted into the County road system. The size of the County Courthouse was more than doubled. The new Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District accepted miles and miles of water lines and sewer lines, again constructed by developers (pinching pennies.) The Town of Pagosa Springs began paving downtown streets that had been functioning as gravel roads for 100 years, and began a program to expand parks, trails open space and recreation.

During this period, little money was set aside, annually, for maintenance and “capital renewal.”  At the time, this may have made sense, to someone. There was, as yet, relatively little traffic on the roads; the sewer systems were not overtaxed, the old school buildings continued to function, the parks were not overused.

Between 1990 and 2006, the county population increased from about 5,000 full-time residents to about 12,000. As property values increased along with the population, the taxes and fees flowing into the government coffers tripled.

The future looked bright. Who could conceive of infrastructure maintenance and renewal as a “problem,” when the population was going to more than double every 15 years? Our government leaders believed that endless population growth — and endless economic expansion —would fund the cost of fixing our deteriorating infrastructure…

Read Part Six…

Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.