CARBONDALE — After plans to buy 14 acres at the Aspen Equestrian Estates east of town didn’t pan out, the Ross Montessori School is now looking at a much smaller parcel within an approved residential project in Carbondale for its new school building.
Representatives from the public charter school will be before the Carbondale Board of Trustees next Tuesday to go over their latest plans to carve out about three acres of the larger Thompson Park project situated along Highway 133 and turn it into a school site instead.
The school is under contract to buy the parcel nearest the highway. It was approved by the town two years ago for 23 multi-family residential units as part of the larger 45-unit, 10-acre development.
Developer Frieda Wallison was given five years to begin construction, which has not yet commenced at Thompson Park.
Under state law, public schools are only required to submit a site development plan for review and comment, and do not need to go through a full land-use application and review process, according a summary of the school proposal by town planner Janet Buck.
The plan calls for a two-story, 38,500-square-foot school building with a capacity to serve 350 students in grades kindergarten through eighth.
Ross Montessori operates under the Colorado Charter School Institute, currently serving about 250 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade in a leased modular facility at Fourth Street and Merrill Avenue in Carbondale.
The school had been under contract to buy what’s now a horse boarding facility at Aspen Equestrian Estates, and remains on a waiting list to receive an $11.8 million state Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant for its new facility.
In August, the Garfield County Planning Commission recommended against a zoning change to accommodate the new school. The zoning application was withdrawn before it was set to be considered by the Board of County Commissioners last Monday.
“Without this zoning, the Aspen Equestrian Estates parcel will not be acceptable for the BEST program,” the Ross Montessori Board of Directors explained in an Oct. 3 letter to parents that was posted on the school’s website.
Final approval of the BEST grant has also hinged on raising an additional $350,000 in new contributions in order to meet a required $1 million local match.
“Our inability to obtain the necessary zoning approvals, and sitting as an alternate in the BEST program, has made for a difficult fundraising situation,” according to the board’s letter.
As a result, the board decided to accept a cash offer of $325,000 to hand its contract for the Aspen Equestrian Estates property over to another buyer that had a back-up contract on the property.
“At this same time, the board also voted to quickly pursue an alternate property and hold our position as an alternate for BEST funding,” the board explained in its letter, referring to the new Thompson Park proposal.
Mark Kavasch, vice president of the Ross board, said he couldn’t discuss details of the land deal, which is still subject to negotiations. But an in-town location remains the school’s first preference, he said.
“This is an area we had looked at before,” he said. “It’s in town, and it’s next to [recreational] fields and bike paths, so that’s a plus.”
In pursuing the Thompson Park site, the school is asking to be released from some of the conditions that went along with the town’s residential development approval, including a street connection from the neighboring Keator Grove and Hendrick Park developments into Thompson Park.
After town staff expressed concern about losing the street connection, the school revised its plan, agreeing to keep the right of way dedication in the plan but wouldn’t pay for the actual street construction, according to Buck’s memo.
The town’s planning and zoning commission was also to review the school proposal Thursday night.
Because of the tight deadline to remain in consideration for the BEST grant, the school is asking for the town’s approval of the Thompson Park site plan by Nov. 1.
“We have been needing and dreaming of having our own, sustainable building going on nine years now,” Ross Montessori Principal Sonya Hemmen said. “The school has probably looked at 200 different parcels of land in that time. Our board members just keep plugging away, and are to be commended for that.”
“This is an area we had looked at before. It’s in town, and it’s next to [recreational] fields and bike paths, so that’s a plus.”
Vice president of the Ross board