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Renovating Jeffco schools would cost $647 million

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School board is discussing a bond issue in November to raise the funds

By Corinne Westeman

The Jeffco School Board has discussed using a bond issue on the November ballot to raise $647 million that experts said would be needed to make Jeffco schools more efficient, more equal and safer.

The board has made no decision on whether to put a bond issue on the ballot, which would need to be done before late August, but board members asked for further information to take to upcoming community meetings.

On Thursday, the school board heard a presentation on the Capital Asset Advisory Committee Annual Report and 2018 Capital Improvement Plan, which assessed modernizing or rebuilding schools, safety issues and programmatic needs.

“Our buildings are aging and are getting more expensive to maintain,” said capital asset committee member Dawn Williams. “... (The committee) would support exploring a larger funding, such as bonds. We want our school buildings to complement the educational models to help students prepare for the future.”

Capital Improvement Plan

Tim Reed, Jeffco’s executive director of facilities and construction, said the 2018 Capital Improvement Plan evaluated all of the district’s assets through six categories:

• Efficiency and modernization updates would cost the district an estimated $242 million.

• Addressing the parity between older and newer schools would take $118 million.

• Programmatic needs, which includes additions to Jeffco’s middle schools, would cost $46 million.

• Addressing the county’s growing areas, including north Arvada, Three Creeks and west Lakewood, would cost $55 million.

• Replacing schools that are too costly to renovate would cost $96 million.

• And specialty needs, including safety and technological measures, district-wide would cost $25 million.

The $647 million total also includes $65 million toward charter schools, Reed noted.

“(The plan) would make a huge difference in schools and how they function,” Reed said. “... We still need to flesh out and identify where the investment should be made. Every school, under this scenario, gets touched; even some of our new schools have deficiencies that need to be addressed. ... Realistically, it is a six-year plan.”

School parity especially should be addressed, Reed noted, to create consistent environments and correct programmatic deficiencies. About 60 percent of schools with parity issues were pre-1980s high schools, including Columbine, Green Mountain and Alameda.

Board comments

After Reed’s presentation, board members discussed how best to present the information to the public, especially if the school district pursues a bond issue.

“I wonder whether the size of the ask was part of the problem two years ago,” said treasurer Brad Rupert in reference to the 2016 proposed bond, which failed. “... The needs are larger and the cost of addressing the needs is larger. How many problems are you willing to solve?”

Secretary Amanda Stevens said knowing what it would take to address schools’ needs and wants over six years was a start, but now the board must decide what is a responsible package if it decides to go for a bond issue.

Board president Ron Mitchell said “We could cut this package down greatly, but the fact of the matter is we’d be back trying to do it in two years because additional schools would’ve risen to the top.”

Superintendent Jason Glass told the board that Jeffco would conduct a community outreach survey soon, as well as sending other mailings and providing feedback opportunities. He added that he would be talking about this issue with groups for the next several weeks.

Public, committee comments

During public comment, a group from Alameda International High School told the board of the building’s deteriorating conditions and outdated facilities. The group described how some classrooms experience wild temperature swings; bathrooms don’t have mirrors, stalls or working sinks; and there are bats in the school and holes in the hallways where snow falls through.

The school board also heard from the Capital Asset Advisory Committee, which recommended that the school district change the tone of its communication with the public.

Committee member Gordon Callahan told the board that assuming there will be no additional money from the state, more school districts will face similar problems and more communities will make their opinions known via the podium and the press.

When Rupert asked how to get the district’s message out to the estimated 70 percent of Jeffco residents who never enter local schools, Williams said, “Tell the public that things aren’t as good as they appear on the outside.”