Guest opinion: Finding sustainability in what might appear to be sprawl
Building a school in Eastbank was a challenging proposition for me. After much discussion, and a review of the history of land use decisions made over the last decade, I’ve ultimately come to believe that the timing is right to build this school to meet the needs of the current neighborhoods of Ironbridge, Elk Springs, Pinyon Mesa, Westbank Mesa, Westbank Ranch, Teller Springs, Coryell Ranch, Aspen Glen, H Lazy F Mobile Home Park, Mountain Meadows Mobile Home Park, Auburn Ridge and Pinyon Pines Apartments, among others.
Did you know that each and every morning our students living in Pinyon Mesa board a bus at 6:24 a.m.? By 6:30 a.m., that bus is almost full. This begins a 1.5-hour journey to Sopris Elementary School (SES). This is repeated in reverse each and every school day. If students are not riding a bus from these neighborhoods they are joining the morning commute into Glenwood across 27th street and down a very congested Midland to SES. Alternatively, they are driving clear across Glenwood to get to Glenwood Springs Middle School (GSMS). Building a school in Eastbank takes cars off of our roads, shortens distances traveled and allows our students to get much-needed rest to be ready to learn each and every day.
As I began to ask questions about Eastbank I learned that the aforementioned neighborhoods contain approximately 320 students today. This is not about building a school for neighborhoods of tomorrow — it’s about building a neighborhood school today for communities that Garfield County established long ago. These neighborhoods continue to grow. Ironbridge is about to begin work on its third phase, and Pinyon Mesa is growing quickly.
What is the current enrollment situation like at SES and GSMS? SES and GSMS are currently operating over capacity by more than 150 students despite the fact that we have already removed preschool programs from SES. Growth of an additional 100 students in the SES attendance area is expected within the next five to seven years. Today, modular facilities and hallways are being used for classroom space, which creates added challenges and stress for our teachers and students. Overcrowding inhibits the development of an optimal learning environment at these schools.
Our preschool programs are a critical part of our instructional programs. Preschool programs integrated into elementary schools improve a child’s learning experience by providing continuity for the child during a critical development phase. Our preschool programs are temporarily being housed at the transportation maintenance facility due to overcrowding.
Re-establishing the preschool program at SES is essential. With these additional preschool students, SES and GSMS would be over capacity by nearly 210 students (not including projected growth). The development of the Eastbank school will alleviate overcrowding in both SES and GSMS, and allow the preschool program to be moved out of the transportation center and integrated back into SES.
The option of enrolling these students in the Carbondale schools would not address the problem of the long distances traveled by students and is not possible as the available capacity of Crystal River Elementary School and Carbondale Middle School is not sufficient to serve all of these students.
Are there other places in Glenwood that could accommodate a school? An elementary school campus requires 15 acres of land; a combination elementary/middle school campus requires 15-20 acres. Three other sites were considered for an elementary/middle school expansion in Glenwood Springs and were eliminated for a variety of reasons, including inadequate size of parcel, lack of proximity to projected area of growth, and unstable soils/geologic conditions not suitable for a facility the size of a school.
Without a new pre-K-through-eighth-grade school, Glenwood schools’ overcrowding problem will become a serious impediment to learning. Building a new pre-K-8 school on land already owned by RFSD in the Eastbank area will relieve overcrowding in Glenwood schools and accommodate growth in Glenwood Springs. Building in this area also reduces students’ travel time to school, locates a school close to an area of high population growth, and provides sufficient space for outdoor fields and recreational space for students. As much as we all struggle with growth issues, I’ve become convinced that building in this location is a response to growth that has already been approved and will occur regardless of our school’s presence.
Vote yes on 3B. Bond Together builds neighborhood schools, reconstructs Glenwood Springs Elementary School, creates affordable teacher and staff housing, enhances the safety of our schools and revitalizes our aging middle schools.
Matthew Hamilton is a member of the Roaring Fork School District board.
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