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November 28, 2012
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Site concerns stall Ross Montessori campus project

CARBONDALE, Colorado - The public charter Ross Montessori School will have to wait yet another year to go after state funding to develop a new school campus near Carbondale.

The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) recently withdrew its $11.8 million Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant that had been awarded to Ross Montessori earlier this year.

However, state officials strongly encouraged Ross to apply for a third straight year in 2013 to receive BEST funding for the new school.

"The grant has technically been pulled, so they will have to reapply," said Ted Hughes, director of capital construction assistance for the CDE. "There's no guarantee, but they have been approved for funding the last two years, and there is a good chance that if they reapply they will receive the grant again."

Hughes said the grant was pulled for this year because of the lengthy timeline for Ross to obtain development approvals and secure the 14-acre Aspen Equestrian Estates property northeast of Carbondale where it hopes to build the new school.

The Ross project was one of nine approved by the state this year as part of the BEST lease-purchase grant program, he said.

Because the projects are pooled together for financing purposes, the state couldn't jeopardize the others by waiting for Ross officials to tie up the loose ends on the new school site, Hughes said.

"It is a pretty rigorous process we go through for financing these projects," he said. "There are some zoning issues and covenants associated with the property that were problematic for investors."

Laura Smith, who is president of the school's board of directors, said the loss of the grant this year, while disappointing, should only delay the project by a few months.

She noted that the school was able to raise the necessary $1 million in matching funds required as part of the grant, which it thought would be the biggest challenge.

"We were actually able to surpass that by about $200,000, which is good because there are likely to be some expenses that won't be covered by the grant," Smith said.

"The community has been very solid in supporting us," she said. "We are in the process of contacting all of our donors to let them know of the delay."

In addition to numerous private donors, Ross was also recently awarded a $150,000 grant from the new Garfield County Federal Mineral Lease District.

"We're really still within three or four months of where we wanted to be in starting construction on the school, so we believe we're still in a very, very strong position," Smith said.

The school remains under contract to purchase the Aspen Equestrian Estates property, located behind the Catherine Store near the intersection of Highway 82 and Garfield County Road 100.

Ross officials have gone through a preliminary review with Garfield County planning and zoning. "That location remains our first priority," Smith said.

The school had been in negotiations earlier this year to buy a portion of the commercially zoned property along Highway 133 in Carbondale for a school site. Part of that property nearest Main Street in Carbondale is now being proposed for the new Main Street Market development.

After the owners of the in-town property indicated they didn't want to sell to Ross, the school shifted its focus to the Equestrian Estates site for a new campus.

Ross Montessori operates under the Colorado Charter School Institute, and serves approximately 250 students in kindergarten through eighth grade from throughout the Roaring Fork Valley. Since opening in 2005, the school has been housed in a group of leased modular buildings at Fourth Street and Merrill Avenue in Carbondale.

The new school building and campus would allow the school to expand to serve approximately 300 students.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Nov 28, 2012 01:16AM Published Nov 28, 2012 01:15AM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.