Two sides of the same issue
In recent weeks the Post Independent’s commentary pages have been flooded with articles supporting and opposing the Roaring Fork School District’s $86 million bond issue.The consensus for most is, yes, teachers need more support, and the school district needs to update certain facilities.The controversy lies in exactly where and how facilities will be updated.Business owners in the True Value shopping center support education, but they do not support the school board’s decision to expand Glenwood High School into their territory.To make necessary improvements to Glenwood Springs High School the district needs to buy a six-acre plot of land south and southeast of the high school, said Fred Wall, superintendent of Re-1. The six acres of land the school is proposing to buy includes five businesses and five rental homes.The property where the houses and businesses are is not for sale; however, the district can buy the land because it has eminent domain, which allows government entities buy property that is not for sale if it benefits public use.The district feels that claiming eminent domain is a last-resort option, Wall said. The district has made no move to claim eminent domain because the owners of the property have shown interest in selling the property, Wall said.The district will meet with property owners and tenants within the next few weeks, Wall said at Wednesday’s board meeting.If the bond passes, Re-1 will demolish businesses such as True Value and Glenwood Gymnastics to make way for a parking lot, according Rob Jones, owner of Glenwood Gymnastics.According to the district’s renovation plans for Glenwood High School, a bus drop-off, parking lot and part of the high school would make up what is now True Value, Glenwood Gymnastics, Defiance Thrift Store and other businesses.”Their response is that there’s lots of property here and places for people to move,” Jones said. “I can’t afford to move. They’re putting me out of business.”When deciding where to put the high school, the district tried to be sensitive to the businesses in the True Value shopping center, Wall said. Before deciding to expand on the high school’s current site, the district asked the community if it wanted the high school in Glenwood or outside Glenwood.Dan Rauscher, a Denver investment bank that specializes in bond and school finance, took a survey of 301 Garfield County residents. Seventy-six percent of Glenwood residents – about 100 were surveyed – said they’d be more likely to vote for the bond if Glenwood High School stayed in Glenwood.Glenwood High School is 14.4 acres, but to adequately accommodate its needs, the high school would have to be at least 37 acres.If the bond passes, Glenwood High School will only expand to 20 acres which doesn’t do much to help with space issues, said David Hicks, a Carbondale parent and former district accountability member.The 20 acres will be used to increase the size of high school from 122,000 square feet to 153,000 square feet. A two-story addition will be added, parking will be increased, a new bus drop-off and practice field will also be added.”I don’t think it would be an appropriate solution for the school district to put people out of business when the 20 acres they’ll get still won’t be enough for the high school,” Hicks said.When the five businesses on the property get wiped out, other commercial property owners will have to bear a larger tax burden, Hicks said.The board is trying to pass the bond at a time when interest rates are relatively low to lessen financial burden, Wall said.”If interest rates should rise before approved bonds could be issued, the mill levy collection rates would be lowered for several years so that the tax increase will remain stable,” Wall said.Monee Harrington has three children who have attended or are attending Glenwood Springs High School.The district needs to provide students with more resources such as books, but it doesn’t need to spend $34.2 million on a high school, said Harrington, who is also housewares manager at True Value.The renovation estimate for Glenwood Springs High School was determined by looking at the amount of square footage necessary to update the school, how large the rooms would have to be to be considered modern and how much construction costs per square foot for similar buildings, such as Coal Ridge High School, Wall said.The price of the six acres, which is estimated between $5 and $6 million, was also factored into the $34 million, Wall said.”Unless they’re talking about putting chandeliers in the building, that’s an outrageous cost,” Harrington said.If passed, the $86 million bond will meet only a portion of the district’s needs, Wall said. To meet every need in the district, the bond would have to pass at $122 million.Regardless, $86 million is too much because not one of the building needs to be completely renovated, Hicks said.”A lot of people have this opinion but they won’t come forward because it’s not politically correct,” Hicks said. “We support the kids and the teachers, but I don’t believe this is fiscally responsible.””A lot of people have this opinion but they won’t come forward because it’s not politically correct,” Hicks said. “We support the kids and the teachers, but I don’t believe this is fiscally responsible.”
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