RFSD News: Progress from bonds showing up
There’s no greater challenge to one’s public speaking acumen than standing between 200 schoolchildren and their new playground. While I attempted to describe the merits of the learning landscape at the Sopris Elementary School ribbon cutting and express sincere appreciation to those who made it all possible, their eyes were trained on the zipline, climbing rock, and other fantastical features behind me. We grown-ups quickly concluded our remarks, the ribbon was cut and the mob stormed through with cries of glee.
Thanks to the support of the residents and taxpayers of the Roaring Fork Valley and to the hundreds of hard-working individuals who contributed to the effort, we have been cutting a lot of ribbons lately.
Based on a year of study and planning by a community advisory committee in 2014-15, the Roaring Fork Schools established a facilities master plan that established both a vision and a plan for school facilities into the future.
Parents, teachers and community members achieved consensus that they wanted “safe, welcoming, flexible and sustainable” facilities that would promote “creative, active and collaborative” learning. They wanted schools to be gathering places that would “bring together our diverse community.” They envisioned facilities that “encourage flexible learning styles and spaces,” and “create a platform for varied learning experiences.”
This community vision inspired the following ambitious goals, and ultimately, the projects we are celebrating today:
• Address years of aging facilities and deferred maintenance, update technology, HVAC, electrical, plumbing and other infrastructure, and create more sustainable facilities for the future;
• Rightsize schools and relieve overcrowding.
• Integrate preschool programs into elementary schools.
• Maintain the welcoming feel of our schools while enhancing safety and security.
• Transform middle schools into 21st century learning spaces.
• Update transportation and maintenance facilities and remove bus parking from school campuses.
• Centrally locate district offices in Carbondale.
• Develop affordable housing for staff.
Voters approved a $122 million bond in 2015 that was augmented by $9.6 million from the State of Colorado BEST program funding, about a quarter million dollars in Greater Outdoors Colorado funding, a $16.9 million bond premium, and money the district was holding in reserves, allowing a total $151 million investment in your schools. Included in the bond was $15 million for 60 units of staff housing evenly distributed in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.
While the architecture of the buildings is as varied as our diverse communities, visitors will share a common experience when entering any school. Upon entering through a secure vestibule, visitors will immediately be welcomed by front office staff. Schools open into a “commons” — flexible and multipurpose gathering spaces that can accommodate large groups or be used for quiet socializing and study. Smaller commons continue throughout the buildings where small groups of students can gather in flexible groups for collaborative learning.
Comfortable seating areas are distributed throughout the buildings. Technology infrastructure supports projectors in every classroom and laptops for every student grades 4-12. LED lighting is softer on the eyes and more energy efficient. Furnishings support active learning and can be rearranged for varied activities. These spaces support the type of learning and experiences for our staff and students that were envisioned by our communities.
Every school in the district saw some improvements. Newer facilities received security enhancements and other updates as needed — maybe a new playground, an innovation lab or improved parking and drop-off lanes. All three middle schools along with Basalt and Bridges high schools received a complete remodel, so much so that you will hardly recognize them when you enter the buildings. An entirely new Riverview School opened this fall to serve the expanding population between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. Glenwood Springs Elementary is being rebuilt, while preserving and reusing the shell of the historic old main building.
In addition to the ribbon-cutting ceremonies for these new and remodeled school spaces, another cause for celebration this fall is the 24 teachers and staff members who have already moved into their new homes. More staff housing will come online over the next school year, which will allow us to retain and recruit great teachers and leaders for your schools.
All told, your investment in schools supported almost 200,000 square feet of new construction, over 400,000 square feet of renovation, and 60,000 square feet of staff housing. Overall, the project is on time and on budget. Following a massive flurry of construction over the spring and summer, most of the projects have been completed. Some of the new construction will continue through this fall, and the final units of staff housing will be ready for occupancy next fall.
In addition to the investment in education that you have made, dollars from construction are flowing back into the local economy. As of the most recent accounting on Aug. 1, of the $82 million spent to date, approximately $24 million or about 30 percent was on local expenditures in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Granted, not every ribbon cutting has been as frenzied and gleeful as the playground at Sopris Elementary. But thanks to you, the voters and taxpayers of the Roaring Fork Valley, children and staff members in every school entered their buildings this fall with a new sense of wonder.
Rob Stein is superintendent of Roaring Fork Schools.
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.