Garfield 16 completing $36M in capital improvements
When students in Garfield School District 16 returned to classes this week to start the 2016-17 school year, many of them stepped into some vastly improved facilities.
From the elementary school to the high school to the transportation department, the district is wrapping up sweeping capital projects totaling $36.4 million.
Some of those improvements, such as modified entrances intended to improve security at the Grand Valley Center for Family Learning (CFL), Bea Underwood Elementary School (BUE), L.W. St. John Elementary School and Grand Valley High School, are more noticeable.
As is the new turf football field at the high school, which was largely driven by a need to shed water away from the school.
Many of the repairs, though, are less noticeable, such as upgraded electrical service to BUE and a new boiler at the high school.
The four-pages worth of projects completed over the past 16 months were made possible by a successful bond campaign in 2014 that, when factoring in premium sales, totaled $33 million.
In turn, part of that money was used for matching grant funds that brought in another $3.3 million over two years through the Colorado Building Excellent Schools Today program.
BEST, as it is known, receives money from state land trust funds, Colorado Lottery spillover funds, marijuana excise tax dollars and interest. The competitive grant program aims to help public schools with construction needs.
Over the past two years, BEST dollars helped fund new roofs at BUE and St. John, the latter of which now serves as the district headquarters but can easily be re-opened as an elementary school should BUE reach capacity. BEST dollars also helped fund security and abatement work at those two locations, a vestibule at the CFL and multiple projects at the high school.
In addressing critical infrastructure issues throughout the district, Garfield 16 has positioned itself to be a destination for years to come, Superintendent Ken Haptonstall said earlier this summer.
“The core of what we were looking for was safety and security, but also to make sure our schools are an asset to the community,” Haptonstall said.
Megan Madden, who was taking her two children to BUE for the first time Tuesday, seemed to agree.
“I’m very excited they get to go to a very nice, new school,” she said.
Although the school is not new, it would be easy to make that assumption, especially from the outside. Along with the renovated main entrance, exterior doors and windows were replaced, a fence was built along the perimeter of the school grounds and the parking lot was expanded and improved.
So far, the projects have remained on time and within budget, according to Haptonstall. A field house at GVHS is the only remaining project on the list.
Overall, the district is a vastly improved one compared to 2013-14, when renewed discussions started at the community level. A committee was formed to discuss improvements that would increase the overall quality of the district, according to Haptonstall.
Among the few things that were broadly agreed upon was the need to upgrade the facilities and bring them into the 21st century.
Consultants were brought in to evaluate the facilities and determine repairs needed to either keep individual buildings functional or bring them into compliance with various codes.
After going through a lengthy list and prioritizing projects, the committee ended up proposing both the bond issue as well as a mill levy override to generate an additional $1.1 million per year for the district.
At the time, salaries had been frozen for five or six years, Haptonstall said, before noting the difficult nature of asking for both a bond and a mill levy increase.
It was a tough sell, recalled David Blair, fire chief with the Grand Valley Fire Protection District.
Blair, who ended up chairing the committee that campaigned for the ballot questions, said those involved went to great lengths to educate the public.
They had spreadsheets and hard numbers, including what the additional cost would be to individual property owners. Also, campaign organizers were able to show that with rising construction costs, the needed repairs would only become more expensive the longer they waited.
According to Haptonstall, the district would have wasted $5 million on construction escalation cost had it waited to start construction until now.
The bond question passed with 1,044 voting in favor and 943 voting against it. The mill levy also passed by an equally narrow margin; 1,046 for and 945 against.
The passing of both questions was a testimony to the work by community members, said Haptonstall, who noted that the district can not run the campaign for such issues
“Get yourself out of the way and let community leaders that you trust run the show,” he said. “It’s so key to have local community people champion the cause.”
In down-playing his own involvement, Blair seconded Haptonstall’s remarks.
“It was a community effort,” he said. “It wasn’t just me. It was several people on that committee and it was neighbors talking to neighbors convincing them it’s the right thing to do.”
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Silt, Rifle and Parachute high schools are holding their graduation ceremonies this Saturday in Western Garfield County.