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District sizing up its school capacities

Mary Ann Lopez
Special to the Post Independent

Working to meet student capacity before schools are overcrowded, the Roaring Fork School District Re-1 has started to evaluate district facility needs.

Taking a proactive approach, the district has commissioned several studies that will culminate with a final master plan setting the course for the district’s future.

Last year a building capacity study was compiled to evaluate how the current and expected increase in students will affect area schools. Schools were evaluated based on an optimum capacity and a maximum capacity.

Some of the schools, including Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and Basalt elementary schools and Glenwood Springs Middle School, are already above the “optimum” class load.

Only one school, Crystal River Elementary School, is at “maximum” class load, according to the study. In October 2001 the school had 206 students, 36 above optimum capacity and six above the maximum.

Optimal capacity is based on the number of students the building is ideally designed to handle, RE-1 School Superintendent Fred Wall said. Maximum capacity is higher than that number and will severely affect school programs.

The firm, LKA Partners, Inc. of Colorado Springs, compiled the information, which was gathered between February and June 2001. The cost of the study was about $4,000, Wall said.

“The plan is to systematically look at facilities so that when you need to do it, you’re not scrambling,” Wall said.

The building capacity study was just one step in the process toward evaluating school needs, he said. A demographic study was also compiled, and an overall school master plan will be completed later this year.

Several of the schools are way below optimum capacity at this time, including Carbondale and Basalt middle schools, and Glenwood Springs, Roaring Fork and Basalt high schools.

About every five years it is necessary to re-evaluate schools and create a new master plan, Wall said. The district is growing at roughly 2 percent every year or approximately 100 students.

A 20-year bond to build Sopris Elementary School, Crystal River Elementary School and Basalt High School was issued in 1995, he said. Now the district must begin to evaluate the need for another bond issue in the future as student numbers continue to increase.

A master plan will encompass information provided in the building study. Once it is completed, the district will be able to decide which schools need additions and where other schools need to be built. Some older schools in the district might need to be replaced.

The master plan will survey the buildings and determine those in need of repairs, Wall said. Periodic maintenance has helped keep many of the buildings in good shape, he added.

Different ideas to handle the growing student population could include building out Crystal River Elementary School so it is not only a K-1 school, he said. Building a school at Blue Lake would be another way to help relieve future crowding between Basalt and Carbondale.

“The time frame (for the projects) will really be dependent on the master plan, but I’m guessing we’re still a few years out,” he said.

Updating study information is always important to the school district, School Board member Tresi Houpt said.

With the region growing so quickly, it is important that the district stay on top of things and try to predict in a reasonable way what the growth needs will be, Houpt said.

“For Glenwood Springs we really have very few options for future building sites and that comes into the whole discussion of future needs,” Houpt said.

“It allows us to go to the public with credible information and say `this is why,'” she said. “We actually need credible numbers and a credible plan.”

Talking with teachers at Glenwood Springs and Carbondale schools, Wall said some are feeling the “pinch” because they are sharing rooms.

Once the master plan is complete and the district understands its facility needs, it will begin working with an architect and investigate a bond issue, he said.


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