RFSD News column: Dealing with bridge, school construction projects | PostIndependent.com

RFSD News column: Dealing with bridge, school construction projects

Rob Stein

Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for. Two massive community investments, both converging in the summer of 2017, bring this lesson to light.

Because of the foresight of community leaders and the generosity of taxpayers, Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt are going to see the replacement of the Grand Avenue bridge — the main artery to the Roaring Fork Valley — and the completion of a set of school construction projects that will have been under way for two years. Both the bridge and the school projects were conceived for the same dual purposes: to relieve overcrowding and to address aging facilities. All of the school projects are scheduled to wrap up around the end of 2017, and the Grand Avenue Bridge will be complete in June 2018.

While we are all excited about this new infrastructure for our communities, no one is looking forward to living through the construction process. The Roaring Fork Schools, the Colorado Department of Transportation and the city of Glenwood Springs are working together on a plan to minimize the impacts of this extensive construction, but for the next year — especially next fall — we are all going to be living with a lot of inconvenience and, in some cases, hardship. And we are all going to need a lot of patience and cooperation.

Both the bridge and school facility projects have been reported on extensively through regular updates from Tom Newland in his Bridge Answer Man column in the Post Independent, the school district’s newsletters and our Bond Projects Updates webpage. Still, the significance of the impact of next fall’s construction has yet to set in.

In short, deconstruction of the existing Grand Avenue bridge is to begin on Monday, Aug. 14, and the traffic bridge will be closed at least 95 days. This closure begins just a few days before the start of the school year, and right as the school district is wrapping up the brand new Riverview School and the Glenwood Springs Elementary School renovation project, as well as renovations to all three middle schools, Basalt High School and Bridges High School, and a reconfiguration of the Basalt Elementary and Middle School campuses.

What could possibly go wrong? The bridge closure will impact approximately 1,100 Roaring Fork students and 175 staff members who cross the bridge daily to get to school in Glenwood Springs or upvalley. Currently, 450 of those students ride a bus. CDOT is predicting up to 60-minute delays through Glenwood Springs and perhaps more during peak hours, right when the school day starts and ends, if there isn’t a significant reduction in the number of vehicles utilizing the detour route.

Additionally, the timing of the school facilities construction presents a logistical challenge for staff members throughout the district. Once the various school construction projects are complete, teachers at multiple schools will be unpacking and moving into new classrooms. Science equipment, musical instruments, kindergarten learning stations, office machinery, kitchen equipment all have to be set up just as kids are scheduled to come in the door.

The third main consideration for the start of the 2017-18 school year is the impact from the significant enrollment changes that will result from opening a new school in Glenwood Springs. Parents, students and community members have been working with us this fall to develop program recommendations for Riverview School, the new P-8 school in Glenwood Springs. New attendance areas were developed for all Glenwood Springs elementary and middle schools. These developments will affect where hundreds of students go to school: over 500 students and 50 staff members will be changing schools and jobs.

Yes, we are planning for all of this, but two things will help a lot: time and certainty. That’s why we are planning a delayed start to the 2017-18 school year and a universal early enrollment process in January: We need more time and certainty to better prepare for all of this.

We will need time after the bridge closes and the detour route begins to gain certainty about the actual effects on traffic so that we can work with CDOT and the city of Glenwood Springs to make sure kids can get to school safely. For that reason, we three organizations, together, are asking the Board of Education to consider starting the school year later, on Sept. 5. Delaying school traffic — even by two weeks — will significantly benefit all drivers on the road as they transition to closure traffic. We are aware of the many implications of a later start for summer supervision and camps, athletic schedules and partner organizations. By making this decision in early January, there will be time for families to prepare and for us to work with our partners on the many other implications of a late start to the school year.

We also need to know who plans to attend which school in the fall. Therefore, we will be conducting a universal early enrollment process this year in January that asks every family to let us know where their children will be attending school next fall. This process will allow us to budget and hire staff, purchase furnishings and materials, and set up classrooms ahead of time, rather than waiting to see what happens in August.

There are also hardships associated with building a new school. Because it is being built to relieve overcrowding in Glenwood Springs, there will be some intended downsizing of our other elementary and middle schools. While opening a new school presents career opportunities for some of our staff members, the enrollment shift might cause the involuntary displacement of others. We need certainty to know whose jobs might be affected so that any impacted staff have time to look for other positions. Parents can help by letting us know in January’s universal enrollment process about their preferences for the fall. We are also encouraging staff members who are contemplating retiring or resigning at the end of the year to help their colleagues by giving early notice.

Again, it’s going to take a lot of patience and cooperation to reap the benefits and minimize the downside of the changes underway.

We will continue to share information as we have it. We will share information about the enrollment process in January. You can learn more about the proposed calendar changes. You can find the latest updates about our facilities construction on our Bond Projects Updates webpage. You can stay up to date on the Grand Avenue Bridge construction by subscribing to the weekly updates. Finally, make sure you subscribe to our monthly newsletters.

Rob Stein is superintendent of the Roaring Fork School District Re-1.

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