RFSD bond series: Glenwood Springs Elementary is said to be ‘limping along’ | PostIndependent.com

RFSD bond series: Glenwood Springs Elementary is said to be ‘limping along’

Will Grandbois
wgrandbois@postindependent.com

The last time Roaring Fork School District went to voters for bond approval, renovating Glenwood Springs Elementary School didn't quite make the cut.

Administrators hoped they would have another chance in five years, but the recession put an end to that idea. Now, 12 years later, the school is a patchwork of buildings and work-arounds.

"We've been living on borrowed time," Superintendent Diana Sirko said. "We either have to get this done or we're going to have to put a lot of money into those buildings."

RFSD is seeking voter approval to issue $122 million worth of bonds for a range of capital projects. Ballots in the mail-in election will be sent to registered voters in the district next week. Voting ends Nov. 3.

If the bond issue is approved, $20.1 million would go to GSES, which also won a $9.1 million state Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant. The grant represents nearly a fifth of the BEST program's budget for this year, so RFSD faces pressure to come up with its share of the money for the project.

"If the bond does not pass, we'll lose that 9 million," said Sirko. "It's a tremendous opportunity that would be a shame to waste."

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For Principal Audrey Hazleton, the grant validates the school's need.

"It's been identified by the state as one of the top priorities that they're willing to fund," she said.

In two years at the helm, Hazleton has overseen the transition to expeditionary learning — a hands-on, community-focused curriculum — and been part of the daily struggle to keep the school running.

"We're really in such an exciting phase that we'd like facilities to match it," she said. "Walls that are falling apart, roofs that are leaking, kids having class in the basement — I don't think that's what our community thinks school should look and feel like.

"People who are considering moving to the area come and check out the school," she added. "I can see it on their faces. I know that the schools their kids go to don't look like this."

The district has done its best to work around the campus's limitations.

If the bond issue is approved, the district would tear down and replace two buildings added to the campus through the years and do a major internal overhaul of the historic original building.

One of the added buildings, called Bolitho Elementary, has been externally reinforced to prevent it from collapsing. A bladder in the ceiling of one classroom in the Annex, another added building, funnels water from the leaking roof into a large plastic bin. Narrow hallways are softened by student art and made functional by rows of hooks.

Teachers do their best to fit space for solo projects, small groups, presentations and projects into small traditional classrooms. As often as possible, rooms in the basement and two modular buildings are reserved for intermittent use, leaving teacher offices under the gymnasium, where the patter of little feet echoes through the ceiling. The security challenge of having five separate buildings is addressed with key cards and cameras at the expense of effort and efficiency.

"We lose a lot of time during the day in transitions," Hazleton said. "The time and people resources we put in dealing with the building takes away from our teaching and learning. We want the building to do its job so we can do our job."

That's to say nothing of the labor put in by the district's maintenance department. Tom McRaith, assistant director of facilities, is at the school almost every day.

"You just can't keep up with it," he said. "We're limping along trying to get through, but it's going downhill. It needs a reboot."

McRaith challenged anyone with doubts to tour the building.

"It's at the point where it detracts from the education of the students," he said. "There needs to be pride, and it's hard to have pride in it."

He emphasized that the problem is in the building itself, not the staff.

"Those teachers transcend anything that the building takes away. I wish they didn't have to," he said. "They really put up with a lot. They probably don't even ask for my help anymore, they're so used to living with things."

If the bond passes, the district plans begin a collaborative design process, as well as negotiations for a land swap with the city already approved by voters. The remodel could be completed as soon as 2018.

If not?

"I don't know what plan B is," McRaith said.

RFSD BOND SERIES

The Post Independent this week will examine components of the Roaring Fork School District bond proposal.

MONDAY: Eastbank School

TODAY: Glenwood Springs Elementary

WEDNESDAY: Staff housing

THURSDAY: School security

FRIDAY: Other plans