EDITORIAL: School Kids, with Guns, Part Three

Read Part One

Archuleta School District held another ‘Planning Assistance Team’ meeting last night, Monday February 5, to discuss the best way to spend $50 million in additional taxpayer contributions — if the District can get their hands on that kind of money.

Leading the discussion was Stuart Coppedge, from Colorado Springs-based RTA Architects.

If there was one thing everyone in the room seemed to agree upon, it was the unlikeliness that the property owners in Archuleta County would be willing to increase their taxes by $50 million mainly for new school buildings, when the district already has four fully functional buildings available for student classrooms, most of which buildings are less than fully utilized in 2018.

Even if some of the money were earmarked for “student safety.”

The American public is very supportive of safe schools, from what I understand. But, apparently, student safety has become rather a rather expensive proposition in 2018. More about that in a moment.

The Archuleta School District Planning Assistance Team meeting with RTA Architect’s Stuart Coppedge on February 5, 2018.

The team of volunteers also seemed in general agreement that, as of February 5, the architect consultants from RTA still had not explained in enough detail why these school district ‘improvements’ had a $50 million price tag.

Yes, we had been shown the slides that Mr. Coppedge has brought with him. And, yes, the numbers did add up to around $50 million. But those were only dollar amounts. What exactly would the taxpayers get for those dollars?

In the following photo, Mr. Coppedge is quoting an estimate of $51 million if the District were to build a new elementary school (Pre-K through 5th grade) on the existing 10-acre Pagosa Springs Elementary School property on South 10th Street, and demolish the existing building.

The total price also included “Life Safety and Security” renovations at the Pagosa Springs Middle School, and “deferred maintenance” and other renovations and additions at Pagosa Springs High School, including a new Vo-tech building. The High School would also get safety and security upgrades. We hear that the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) is eager to fund improved “Life Safety and Security” in the state’s public schools, and that such improvements are looked upon with approval by the folks who hand out CDE’s BEST grants.

An alternate plan showed the RTA-estimated cost if the District were to build a new PreK-5th Grade school on District-owned property near the Vista Mobile Home Park — about 4 miles west of the historic downtown, but much closer to the county’s population center. The cost for this overall plan was shown as $48.2 million, with the savings derived from the fact that the District might not need to pay for the demolition of the existing elementary school building on South 10th. (Assuming, perhaps, that some other entity would want to purchase that facility?)

In either case, the new elementary school building was shown, in the slides, as costing about $27.7 million. More or less. Presumably, some of that price tag would be the result of ‘state-of-the-art’ security measures, to help protect elementary school students and teachers from a potential school shooting, or other dangerous situation.

The slides also showed the cost of providing improved “Life Safety and Security” renovations at Pagosa Springs Middle School:

$4.4 million.

If the cost of “Life Safety and Security” were going to cost that much in an existing building, we might assume that the cost of building a brand new school — with similar “Life Safety” features — would also include around $4 million worth of such features. (If we want to make assumptions.)

To put that figure in some perspective. The Pagosa Peak Open School — the new District-approved charter school that operates on a Project-Based Learning educational model — opened its doors last September inside the Parelli office building in the Aspen Village subdivision, and has been in negotiations with the building owner to purchase the 40,000 square-foot facility at some point in the near future.

The price recently quoted for the entire building is $4.7 million.

RTA Architects apparently feel that it will cost the taxpayers $4.4 million merely to remodel the entrances to the Middle School for security purposes.

About halfway through last night’s discussion, School Board member Bruce Dryburgh asked Mr. Coppedge for some additional information.

“We’ve been spending a lot of our time — if not all of our time — talking about the smaller numbers [in the estimates.] When are we going to start talking about how big the new elementary school will be? How many kids? So we can get our hands around the $27.7 million.

“I mean, I have no idea what to do with that number, because I don’t know if that is for 1,000 more kids than we have today — or 2 more. And that’s the biggest number we’ve got here.”

Stuart Coppedge:

“That’s a good point. And we think that number is for moderate growth.”

Mr. Dryburgh:

“Can you share that with us, one of these days?”

The School District had just received a new “population projection” from RTA earlier on Monday, and Superintendent Linda Reed gave us a quick summary:

“The projections are that [the District] is going to continue to grow. In the next five years, by an additional 286 additional students.”

That is the total projected for all grades. So we might assume — if we are willing to make assumptions — that RTA is estimating about 140 additional elementary age students enrolling over the next five years. (Where exactly these new families-with-children will live, in Archuleta County, is something of an unanswered question, considering the serious housing crisis currently unfolding in the community.)

Mr. Dryburgh:

“If you need some additional time to actually figure that out, that’s fine. But I think that [$27.7 million] is the most important number you’ve got up there on the screen.”

Ms. Reed calculated about 730 students, grades K-5, in the District next year — not including the charter school.

Mr. Dryburgh:

“So you’ve talking about enrollment. But how big is the [proposed new building]? That’s my question.”

Mr. Coppedge:

“900 to 1,000 kids. Somewhere in that neighborhood.”

Mr. Dryburgh:

“I’m willing to wait forever to get an exact number. If it takes you more time, then take more time. I think you can’t possibly go to the community [asking for a tax increase] without a really good answer to that question.”

I personally find it fascinating that RTA Architects can provide us with an estimate of $27.7 million for a school building, and at the same time, be unable to tell us how many students that building will accommodate. But that’s not really the focus I want to take with this particular editorial series. We will have many months to argue about what kind of tax increase is reasonable, when a school district wants to abandon or demolish a perfectly usable elementary school building — on an expansive 10-acre campus — rather than add a few classrooms, and maybe a new gym, onto that existing building.

What I want to talk about, seriously, is school kids with guns. And about what, exactly, is going on in America — and what we are doing about it.

And how we might be doing exactly the wrong thing…

Read Part Four…

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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.