CARBONDALE — The Ross Montessori School in Carbondale, which had been thinking about moving out of town to a location in Garfield County, this week got the blessing of the town’s board of trustees to move instead to a new location in town — a 2.75-acre portion of the Thompson Park housing project along Highway 133.
All the school needs now, according to a spokesman for the non-profit institution, is word about the $11.8 million state grant from the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) fund to pay for construction of the new building. Notification of approval or rejection of the state grant is expected in November.
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. Due to growth pressures, the school has been seeking another place to operate and expand.
The school had planned to buy and build on the Aspen Equestrian Center property, at the intersection of Catherine Store Road and Highway 82 to the east of Carbondale, but failed to win the necessary zoning change from Garfield County.
But now, according to documents filed at Carbondale’s Town Hall, the school and Thompson Park developer Frieda Wallison have reached a deal for sale of what is called Parcel 1, the part of the Thompson Park project nearest to Highway 133, where Wallison had approvals to build 18 townhomes or condos as part of her plans to build a total of 45 units.
The new building is to contain 38,500 square feet of floor area and 14 classrooms, which are designed to serve a student body of up to 350 children. The project plans call for 53 parking spaces on site, to meet the needs of a total staff of 38 school personnel and visitors.
According to the project plans submitted to the town, the school is to be built to LEED Gold specifications to ensure energy-efficient operation, and use the town’s ditch water, leased to the school at a cost of $1 per year, to irrigate its single acre of open space.
Mayor Stacey Bernot asked attorney Dave Myler, spokesman for the school, what the school is paying for the property, but Myler declined to reveal the price, saying he had agreed with Wallison to keep it confidential.
The town agreed to an expedited review of the project to help the school meet state deadlines for the BEST grant application, though town attorney Mark Hamilton advised the trustees that as a school Ross Montessori has a statutory exemption from most zoning regulations.
Hamilton said the town and the school will be operating under several agreements, including the school’s decision to quickly make some of the infrastructure improvements that would have been completed later under the development agreements with Wallison, such as paving certain access routes into the school.
In addition, Hamilton said, Wallison has agreed to dedicate Graceland Drive to the town in return for the trustees’ approval that she can sell the two lots to the school and void that part of her project approvals.
Under the agreements between the town and the school, the buildings will be 27 feet in height, except for a gymnasium that is projected to be 28 feet high.
Because there is not sufficient space on the parcel for a large athletic playing field, Hamilton continued, it will be up to the school administration to arrange for use of existing athletic fields, whether owned by the town or the Roaring Fork School District.
The mayor lauded the project for keeping the school in town and for selecting a site near other schools, stable residential neighborhoods, and the nearby Historic Thompson House museum and park, operated by the Mt. Sopris Historical Society.
Bernot also praised Wallison for making the deal with the school, and agreed to write a letter from the town to the state in support of Ross Montessori’s grant proposal.
The school project’s plans and documents are on file at Town Hall, 511 Colorado Ave., and available for public inspection.