October 2012

Old-fashioned virtues

“When a township was clean, had good roads, bridges, schoolhouses, and churches, a county was in fine shape, and when each county was in order, the state was right, and when the state was prosperous, the nation could rejoice in its strength.”

Those words are from a 1913 novel called “Laddie,” written by Gene Stratton Porter. It’s an old-fashioned book that promotes old-fashioned virtues: honesty, hard work, religious faith. And the story’s upstanding characters recognize the importance of infrastructure to a community.

A hundred years later, it’s worth remembering that the people who built our nation recognized that good schools were a critical element of a great society, and that supporting them was a community responsibility.

In November, voters in Cortez’s Re-1 School District are being asked to approve a $21.7 bond issue to help build a new high school on 35 acres near Walmart. Fifty-two percent of the cost of the new school will be paid by a $22.7 million state grant – if the voters approve the bond measure. If not, the grant money disappears.

Voters should seriously consider saying yes to this measure. Voters in the Mancos and Dolores school districts also should consider approving those bond issues as well.

This is an excellent time to build a new Montezuma-Cortez High School – not just because of the grant money, but because construction costs and interest rates are as low now as they are likely to be ever again in the near future. (That also applies to the improvements being sought for the Dolores schools.)

A new MCHS facility is sorely needed to address problems at the 45-year old building. Those problems include woefully inadequate security; fire-safety issues; poor air circulation and climate control (room temperatures can range from the 50s to the upper 80s); inadequate electrical outlets for today’s technology needs; and an absence of fully handicapped-accessible bathrooms.

The new facility would have a 35-acre campus rather than the current one of just 14 acres. It would include athletic fields so that student-athletes would not have to drive all over the city to practice and to compete in games, but would play close to their locker rooms and their own school.

In addition, there would be a new, larger auditorium that could comfortably house the entire student body (the current one is too small to hold all the enrolled students at one time). The MCHS auditorium has become a de facto community arts center, so this would be a boon to the area at large, not just the schools.

As a side benefit, the project would pump up the local economy by providing for an estimated 413 construction jobs and another 126 supporting jobs for people such as truckers and grocery store clerks. And don’t forget that $22.7 million would pour into the area from the Front Range through the grant.

But jobs and grant monies aren’t the main reasons to support the project. The fact is, the old facility is outdated and inadequate. A modern, well-designed school would be a source of pride and an attraction for families that might move to the area. Locals are justifiably proud of Cortez’s tremendous park system; surely great schools are just as important.

A building can’t provide a quality education, but it can create an atmosphere conducive to learning. Good schools are an integral part of a strong community and a strong nation. The vast majority of us attended public schools, and the hardworking, responsible and community-minded citizens of the past paid for our education. We now have the opportunity to “pay it forward” for the next generation.