Re-1 still set to use commercial property
Despite some continuing resistance to the idea, the Roaring Fork School District Re-1 will not change its mind about acquiring commercial property to build a bigger Glenwood Springs High School.The voice that matters most – the school district’s electorate – approved of the idea, said Re-1 Superintendent Fred Wall.”That’s what we put in front of the voters, that’s what voters voted for,” Wall said.Some of those who will be directly affected by the property acquisition are disappointed by the voters’ verdict on an $86 million bond issue that will allow construction of the new high school and other building projects across the school district.”I was shocked by the outcome,” said Tom Maher, manager of True Value, which is losing its Grand Avenue location. Maher said he, and probably most people working at the store, didn’t oppose Re-1 schools getting money for improvements. But they couldn’t believe voters would go along with eliminating what Maher considers to be a key commercial area in Glenwood Springs. The plan also threatens business at the nearby Van Rand shopping strip, which benefits from traffic True Value brings in, Maher said.Terry Fattor, who owns commercial property slated for acquisition by the school district, said he isn’t angry at voters, but added, “I think it was a horrible decision.”Maher said he believes the high school plan is “a serious mistake.””We think there are better, cheaper ways of doing it,” he said. He said he’s been told the district could have saved money by adding to the existing high school building.Maher said he knows of no legal means to stop the school district from proceeding with its plans. But he hopes the school board is not fixed on the current plan for the high school and might consider other options.”That’s not possible,” Wall said.The district can’t go back on what it promised voters during the election campaign, he said.”We told the voters where the building would be.”Wall said the school district is exempt from zoning reviews for its plans, but believes the school would create fewer impacts in a commercial area than a residential one. The school district had many other good reasons for pursuing the plan it did, he said.He said the existing building is already two stories high, and isn’t designed to accommodate more floors. So to keep the high school at the existing site, it needed additional acreage.”It would be irresponsible to not look at acquiring more land for a school for the next 50 years,” Wall said.As it is, the high school and related facilities will expand from 14 to 20 acres, when ideally it should have 30 to 35 for the 1,000 students the school will be designed to hold, Wall said.Maher cited that same limitation in arguing that the district should have looked elsewhere for a building site. But Wall said it did, and without any success.It looked at the former Wulfsohn Ranch, where the Community Center was built and the Glenwood Meadows commercial project is under construction. But excavation costs would have been too high, Wall said.The district also was interested in the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport property, but it was apparent that the community wasn’t ready to give up the airport, Wall said. When the district looked farther south, city residents said they didn’t want a high school that far out of town.Maher thinks an in-town location may not have been that important, given how many students he sees driving to class.But he acknowledges the issue isn’t an easy one. And at this point, the debate over location appears to be over. Now some of those who will be affected by the property acquisition are looking for some answers soon about when the school district plans to start work on the new high school. School district officials have not contacted him, Fattor said. “And those people in that building need to know what their lives are going to be nine months from now,” he saidFattor rents out a building of almost 10,000 square feet to Glenwood Gymnastics Academy and the Defiance Thrift Store.Thrift store officials could not be reached for comment.Asked about his plans for the future, gymnastics academy owner Rob Jones said, “Why don’t you call the school and ask them because they haven’t gone very far with what they’re doing.”He said the district indicated before the election that it might help affected tenants with relocation funding and assistance in looking for new sites, but he has heard nothing since then.”None of us want to be out of work, but you know, I guess that’s the way it goes,” he said.Wall said the district is just starting discussions with property owners. Assistance to tenants will be part of the negotiations, though he doesn’t yet know what form that aid may take. The district will have to strike a balance between doing what it can for owners and tenants, and being responsible to all district taxpayers, he said.True Value hasn’t been given a precise time line for when it must move out, Maher said. He said store officials were told that the school probably would need the property within a year to 18 months after the election.Wall said he expects that tenants could be asked to move, or begin preparing to move, by summer or fall.The school district talked to all property owners before the election and none indicated an unwillingness to sell, Wall said. Fattor said the upcoming purchase of his property is “not a friendly takeover by any means,” but he hasn’t decided whether to force the district to go through condemnation to acquire the property.He said condemnation apparently would provide him more time to find a new property without having to pay taxes on proceeds from the sale of his current land.Fattor hoped the district might trade him other property it owns, but apparently it doesn’t plan to do that, he said.He worries about his tenants’ future now that the district’s tax measure passed.”Just because they’ve got the money now doesn’t mean they should just forget about these poor people,” he said.Fattor said the gymnastics academy is Jones’ livelihood, “and I think he’s pretty good at it.” Fattor said he doesn’t charge Jones nearly what he could at the academy’s current location because he wants to help out.”If he has to go and rent property elsewhere in the community, unless we get significant help from the community, he’s not going to make it,” he said.”The easiest thing for me is to take the money and run, but that’s not the best thing to do,” Fattor said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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