Cortez voters mull funds for new high school

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If voters in the Cortez area approve Question 3B on the November ballot, they’ll gain $22.7 million from the Front Range and get a new high school for half-price. That’s the case that proponents of the measure are making to citizens in the Re-1 school district.

Earlier this year, Re-1 was awarded a BEST (Building Excellent Schools Today) grant from the state in a competitive process. But to access that grant of $22.7 million, the district has to raise matching funds, so it is asking voters to approve a mill-levy increase that will raise approximately $21 million.

The funds would be used to build a new, 162,500-square-foot high school on 35 acres near Walmart.

A new school is badly needed, according to Becky Brunk, co-chair of the Cortez 21st Century High School Committee, which is pushing the measure. “Safety and security are huge reasons,” she said.

The existing building on Seventh Street, built in 1967, has 21 exterior doors, “so it’s virtually impossible to monitor students as they come in and out,” she said. “Doors can be propped out. There is not video surveillance – just one camera monitored as someone is able.

“With modern security needs in the climate we have now, it’s exceptionally difficult to provide a safe and secure environment.”

Other glaring problems with the existing building, she said, include:

Fire safety. The building has just one fire wall and there are many places where it does not meet the fire code. There are also problems with egress in case of emergencies.

• Climate control and environment. Half the classrooms have no windows, as they are interior rooms, so there is no natural light, and the ventilation system is inadequate. “Temperatures go from in the 50s in the winter in some classrooms, up to the upper 80s in the warm months,” Brunk said. “I would venture to say any of us in our own homes would have a hard time hanging out with such temperature extremes.”

An inadequate electrical system. Many rooms have just two electrical outlets, requiring power cords to be strung all over the floor, Brunk said. And while there is still a lot of teaching that is done with just “basic paper and pencil,” many classes require students to have access to online resources.

Inadequate science labs. For instance, the chemistry section must have a shower in case of a hazardous-materials release, yet there is no drain in the floor.

Bathrooms that are not fully handicapped-accessible.

A too-small auditorium. Its capacity is 500, Brunk said, yet enrollment in MCHS is 645, so it would be impossible to have an event for the entire student body – much less for parents and staff, too.

A 14-acre campus. Having such a small campus means that student-athletes have to go all over the city to different venues for games and aren’t anywhere near their locker rooms, Brunk said.

If the bond is approved, it will cost residents an additional $23.40 in property taxes per year for every $100,000 in assessed valuation, according to the committee.

If the measure fails, a new school will still need to be built in the near future, Brunk said, but the BEST grant will no longer be available. The fund that provides those grants is growing smaller and large grants will not be handed out much longer.

Brunk said the cost of retrofitting and renovating the existing building has been estimated at $32 million, and a revamp would not solve all the problems with the current facility. Half the classrooms would still lack windows, and the campus would still be 14 acres.

Also, BEST grants are not awarded for renovation projects when those projects exceed 75 percent of the cost of just building a new facility, she said. “This is a less-expensive option for what we would be looking at in the future,” she said.

The new site, which is owned by Casa Villa Trust, was chosen for its nearness to adequate roads, the fact that it is not in a residential area, and the availability of fiberoptics. The land has not been purchased.

The bond and the BEST grant would pay for everything involved in constructing a new facility, she said – the land, site development, computers, furnishings, and window coverings. It would also cover demolition of the old building and preparing that land for resale. Brunk said stopgap measures won’t suffice.

“This is not about, ‘We just want a nice looking new school,’” she said. “This is a tool for our teachers and they need to have good tools.”

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From October 2012.