Glenwood Council supports school bond proposal
Glenwood Springs City Council has joined the local chamber of commerce board in lending its unanimous support to the Roaring Fork School District’s $122 million bond proposal that is now before voters from Glenwood Springs to Basalt.
While the overall price tag is admittedly a “shocking number off the bat,” Glenwood Councilman Todd Leahy said the plan to build new schools and improve facilities in Glenwood Springs and elsewhere in the school district is one voters should get behind.
“You have to think about it as a long-term plan,” Leahy said of the package, which includes $20 million toward the overhaul of Glenwood Springs Elementary School, $34 million for a new preschool-through-eighth grade school between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, and $15 million for RFSD staff housing in Glenwood, Carbondale and Basalt.
“There is a lot to like about this plan, and I hope people can get over that initial sticker shock,” he said following a presentation of the bond plan by school district officials before City Council on Thursday night.
In particular, the proposal to revamp the Glenwood Elementary facility and campus is “game-changing for downtown Glenwood Springs,” Leahy said of the plan that would involve a land swap with the city to accommodate eventual redevelopment of the area at the confluence of the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers.
Mayor Michael Gamba, who said he is normally reticent to endorse taxing measures, especially in a public manner, said the district’s plan is one he can get behind as well.
“I’m the antithesis of a tax-and-spend guy,” Gamba said. “But this is an expense I think we have to bear in order to maintain this community, and schools are an important part of the community.”
City Council voted 7-0 to support the bond measure. The endorsement comes on the heels of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association board’s decision earlier this week to support the proposal.
Though questioning the viability of RFSD’s plans to spend $5 million in each of the three district communities to develop affordable housing for teachers and other staff, the chamber said the plan for new schools in Glenwood Springs and various other upgrades across the district is one it can support.
“Ultimately the board decided to pledge its support for the issue, because good schools train the workforce of tomorrow; good schools improve the community’s quality of life; good schools attract new residents; and good schools are important to our children and their future,” the chamber said in a news release.
However, the chamber and business community “need a seat at the table” when it comes to the “complex issue” of affordable housing in general, not just for teachers, it said in the release.
The district plan calls for purchasing or creating between 15 and 20 rental units in each community and setting rents at a rate that a teacher or staff member could afford based on their pay.
RFSD Superintendent Diana Sirko told City Council the teacher housing program in the Aspen School District, where she was superintendent from 2002-09, was successful, growing from 19 to 43 units during her time there.
“Many, many resort communities have had to get into the housing business in order to attract and retain quality staff,” Sirko said.
Council member Kathryn Trauger applauded the district for tackling the issue of creating housing for its employees.
“I sincerely hope the model you develop can be used by other employers in the area,” Trauger said.
Trauger and other council members also expressed initial reservations about plans to build a new pre-K-through-eighth grade school at the district’s 35-acre Eastbank property south of Glenwood Springs.
The new school is needed to ease current overcrowding at Sopris Elementary School in south Glenwood and at Glenwood Springs Middle School, district officials said.
About 300 students who now attend those schools live between Glenwood and Carbondale and in Spring Valley, in what would become the attendance area for the new school, Sirko said.
“It’s not creating sprawl, it is responding to the growth that’s already there,” she said.
Trauger said she understands the need for the new school in that location, but said it “breaks my heart” to see schools located outside of town.
“Schools are the heart of a community, and I hate to see any of our schools move outside of the communities,” she said.
Councilor Leo McKinney called the bond proposal “an investment in Glenwood Springs, and districtwide.”
“I see schools as a very important part of our infrastructure,” McKinney said. “Successful communities have successful schools. Even if you don’t have kids in the school district, you are still going to get some of the benefits out of this bond issue.”
Ballots for the Nov. 3 election were mailed out to RFSD voters earlier this week. Voting will continue until 7 p.m. Nov. 3, when the issue will be decided.
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