RFSD’s $122M bond issue passes easily

Will Grandbois
RFSD administration, teachers and others celebrate passage of the bond as they gathered Tuesday night in downtown Glenwood Springs.
Will Grandbois / Post Independent |

Voters from Glenwood Springs to Basalt came out in favor of Roaring Fork School District’s $122 million bond issue, according to unofficial results released Tuesday night.

In Garfield County, 57 percent were in favor with 11,172 ballots returned, while voters living within RFSD boundaries in Eagle County gave the bond issue 65 percent approval and 57 percent of Pitkin County voters backed it.

A cautious celebration accompanied the news at Glenwood Canyon Brewing Company, where staff and supporters had gathered.

“What’s incredible about a bond election is that the fruits of your labor stand for such a long time,” Superintendent Diana Sirko told the crowd.

The vote will allow the district to issue bonds for a series of major building improvements to address needs identified in RFSD’s facility master plan.

The bonds will be paid back over 20 years by an annual tax increase of about $55 per $100,000 for residential property and $260 per $100,000 for commercial property.

At $34.5 million, or a quarter of the whole, the single largest expense is construction of a new pre-K to eighth-grade school along Highway 82 between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, ideally opening its doors in fall 2017. The school is intended to alleviate overcrowding elsewhere in the district.

The district estimates that 300 children already commute to Glenwood from the proposed service area, with 100 more housing units approved for construction. Meanwhile, both Sopris Elementary and Glenwood Springs Middle School are well over capacity despite the addition of modular classrooms.

“To be able to foresee a day when the school is small enough for us all to be a big family will dramatically change the tone,” middle school Principal Joel Hathaway said.

Major renovations at Glenwood Springs Elementary represent another $20 million, while a $9 million state BEST grant would cover the remaining cost for the project. The school was identified as in need of an overhaul in time for the last bond election in 2004, but was slated for a later election and later tabled during the recession. Pending a potential land swap with the city of Glenwood Springs, construction could be completed as soon as 2018.

“This is going to make a world of difference,” GSES principal Audrey Hazleton said. “Tomorrow morning, we’re getting to be able to make the coolest announcement and there’s going to be a huge cheer.”

The Glenwood Elementary plan also is important to the town because the land swap improves the developable area around the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers, seen as a project with great potential for Glenwood.

The bond plan overall calls for improvements to every school in the district, with particular emphasis on security and multi-use spaces for modern learning. The district’s transportation facilities are also slated for repair or replacement.

A controversial element proved to be a plan to spend $5 million each in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt to purchase or construct staff housing.

“There were a few aspects that were hard for people to swallow,” Chief Academic Officer Rob Stein observed. “The bottom line is that you need quality facilities and quality faculty for quality education. It’s really exciting to contemplate what a new school can look like.”

Chief Financial Officer Shannon Pelland estimated that the community input and design process should begin early next year.

“It’s a great win for the kids in our valley,” Pelland said. “Time and time again, our voters show incredible support for our schools. We are very fortunate and we don’t take it for granted.”

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