MONTROSE – Officials with the Montrose County School District continue to weigh options for funding capital improvement projects within the district, after news that a hoped-for $7 million dollar grant for replacing Columbine Middle School will not be forthcoming.
With the loss of funding to replace the school, built in 1961, officials are working to patch things together with temporary fixes to its crumbling foundation, poor air quality and the roof – as well as dealing with serious security lapses.
Late last month, District Superintendent Mark MacHale and Property Services Supervisor Jason Arebalos traveled to Denver to appear before to the State's Public School Capital Construction Assistance Board discussing the dire need to replace the school. They narrowly lose the Building Excellent Schools Today grant that would have paid for 50 percent of the estimated cost of $14,226,734 to replace the school. (The district had hoped to come up with the other $7 million-plus through a combination of district funds and, possibly, voter-approved initiatives).
“I felt really good about our application and presentation,” said MacHale, “and am pleased that the assistance board unanimously agreed that our project was viable, and that there is a true need.
“Unfortunately, there are several other school districts around the state with the same need," he added.
Although the Montrose School District's request was unanimously voted on by the assistance board as a viable project, the Columbine Middle School project ended up ranked 11th out of 18 large-scale capital construction projects for this year.
BEST “just did not have the money to fund all the projects, and they had a lot of projects around the state that needed money,” Arebalos said Tuesday, walking through the halls of the school. “We knew it was slim, but we had to take a chance; now, we need to have some serious discussion” about how to proceed, he added.
In the meantime, Arebalos emphasized that the district will continue to maintain Columbine to the "best of our ability," while continuing to look for funding sources to support the construction of a new middle school. Over the summer, locks on Columbine’s door locks will be replaced, for safety.
Arebalos said the main security problem concerns the school’s front entrance, although he declined to give specific details, citing safety concerns. He did say the lobby must be remodeled, to monitor who enters the school, and for what purpose.
"It wasn't really built with modern thinking involved,” he said, related to “school shootings and things like that, which have been happening.
"It's an inherent safety issue, because the building is so old,” Arebalos said, and more security cameras are needed for school officials to safely monitor activities on school grounds.
The district must also repair sections of the foundation of the school; floors in some classrooms have sunk about 6 inches below where they initially were joined to the wall, and other areas show large cracks where the foundation is pulling apart.
Arebalos said the cost to fix the critical areas of the foundation and to remove asbestos from the building will cost an estimated $500,000.
"If we’re going to do anything,” he said, “it needs to happen sooner rather than later.”
And if “we’re not going to do something with the building,” officials need to know that now. “We've been putting in a lot of time and money into this building,” he said, “because we don't know if funding will be available" to replace it.
With limited funds this year, CDE could only fund the top six school projects in the state. It is not known if BEST funding will be available for 2014-2015.
This puts the Montrose School District in a tough position. "Do we go to voters and replace the school on our own?” asked Arebalos, or “do we go back to BEST – if there even is a BEST next year; we don’t know yet – and ask again?
“We're at a crossroads," he said.
At Tuesday's regular district meeting, officials announced the district was awarded a $100,000 Great Outdoors Colorado grant toward phase one of a new playground at Northside Elementary School in Montrose. Montrose High School received a three-year grant, totaling $188,000, from the Colorado Department of Education, to go toward preparing graduating students for post-secondary education, with better ACT testing and better access to counselors.