by Sally Scott Moore
Monday evening, February 5, was the third and final “public vision” gathering to offer opportunities for local residents to meet RTA Architect Brian Calhoun and view several broad-brush concepts for the planned Lake City Community School renovation.
Having incorporated audience ideas proffered at previous meetings, Calhoun readied a fresh power point presentation with adjusted plans for additions and renovations on the existing school site. This flurry of new ideas pushed the proposed cost of a community match for the venture up by at least a half million dollars from earlier estimates.
School Board President Phillip Virden welcomed the group of approximately 25 locals interested in the proposed facilities plan. With perhaps half the audience connected to the school as faculty, board or administration, the rest of the group was comprised of parents of students, neighbors, business owners and assorted taxpayers of all ages.
“It is roll up our sleeves time for the facilities team. The Colorado Department of Education’s competitive Build Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant is due by February 23.” Virden added, “It is nose to the grindstone time now to meet that goal.”
As promised, the BEST conceptual architect provided costs to individual taxpayers and commercial interests should a bond be passed for the proposed facility. Assuming that the school qualifies for the reduced 30 percent BEST waiver and estimating a $3-million bond, Calhoun reckoned the tax impact for residential taxpayers to result in a $20.75 annual hike for every $100,000 in home value. Commercial impact on the same $3-million bond was estimated at $83.58 annual addition for each $100,000 valuation. A bond, paid out over a 20-year period, would likely on average run residential homeowners $1672 over that time period.
Should the waiver not be applicable, a match of an estimated 60 percent would double that expected hike.
Careful to state that these numbers were only estimates, since the plan remains conceptual at this point, Calhoun next offered the tax impact for a municipal bond issue of $3.5 million which rendered residential tax payers an added $25.63 per $100,000 home value and commercial businesses an annual estimated boost of $103.25.
These numbers seem negligible until one recalls that the average starting home pricing in Lake City is closer to $300,000 affecting residential homeowners with an estimated annual $60 to $80 dollars per year on top of existing property taxes. Extrapolated out over 20 years, cost to entry level homeowner within the school district would tick in around at least $1,200 on the lower $3-million dollar bond should the district receive the waiver. Without that highly desirable waiver, the low end homeowner for the least expensive school plan presented would be paying out an estimated $2,400 and $3,075.60 for the higher bond amount.
A similarly valued $300,000 business would incur an annual $250.74 or $5,014.80 over the length of a 20-year $3-million bond, or $6,195 on the $3.5 million bond over two decades.
Higher valued homes or businesses would obviously come with much higher tax implications.
Previously, Calhoun and special guest Kathy Gebhardt explained that the BEST waiver board examines a variety of factors of the applicant school. Both noted in their presentations that the number of students receiving free or reduced rate lunches and other financial demographics in the area figured strongly as influential data. Also mentioned were the ratio of the cost of an $11 or $12-million project to the thin year-round population of Hinsdale County. Also important is establishing the fact that an overwhelming portion of homeowners in Hinsdale County are second homeowners and non-voting residents.
Last week’s meeting walked the audience through the pros and cons of both proposed sites and steered the assemblage toward the financial wisdom of staying at the current school site.
Following a display of several new options of various sizes and costs at the present school site, this week’s presentation indicated audience preference for Option A.5 (illustrated top right on this page) as the favored, most complete plan.
Other school footprint plans highlighted by the Colorado Springs architect were of slightly smaller configuration in the $10.5 to $11-million range.
“In this kind of renovation, you have an opportunity to really reimagine the learning spaces,” said the architect.
In this optimum imagining, the administration offices totaling 1,600-s.f. are placed centrally at the new entrance, garnering administration a panoramic view of the courtyard and playground area. This plan was artfully designed to not disturb the existing sport court or the existing cottonwood trees which Calhoun said would be instrumental in camouflaging the size of the gymnasium which has a 15’ setback from Gunnison Avenue.
Reminding the public his renderings were intended as a conceptual plan designed to create reliable cost estimates for the BEST application packet, Calhoun went on to describe the attributes illustrated in Option A-5. A new commons area lines up with a Colorado High School Activities Association regulation-sized gymnasium which also sports a compact concession area and 313-s.f. weight room. The gymnasium, complete with rolling bleachers, a staged music area as well as locker rooms and offices on the North side of the gymnasium. A career tech area (CTA), with small storage area for equipment, puts a modern spin on vocational training.
A 472 s.f. kitchen is located conveniently for ease of deliveries and will easily serve school lunches. Calhoun’s plan groups elementary grades and Pre-K to the South side wing, middle school and high school classrooms to the North, and places the new library where the current commons area now sits as the hub of the school. He described a separate entry for Pre-K and elementary drop off, as well as mandated separate Pre-K playground. The plan does not include facilities for daycare which would remain in their present separate location.
Parking for school vehicles would remain on the northwest corner of the school grounds.
The favored plan sports a more commodious science room and large art room with “maker spaces.” Flex or breakout areas for combined learning are included adjacent to the elementary classrooms for “21st Century learning opportunities,” as well as a dedicated special education room.
This option will expand the overall square footage from the current 14,000 s.f. to approximately 33,013 square feet. Calhoun noted that 4,527-s.f. of the existing school would be renovated and a 21,527 square foot addition, including gymnasium, would be added to the current school-owned footprint.
New mechanicals, LED lighting, fire alarm systems, sprinklers and a PA system would also be added.
Calhoun estimated the cost of this option at $12 million +/- with the inclusion of last week’s audience wish list. Answering queries on various specifics in the plan, he explained, “In these early stages of planning, we may not show the degree of detail or specificity you will have later on. This will give you the necessary general fit to get the grant application rolling.”
The architect answered audience members’ questions and concerns. Don Booher asked about the cost to homeowners should home valuations evolve
in the future. Though not definitive in his response, Calhoun stated that he thought the mill levy was static based on the proposed bond numbers. Sally Moore asked, “Since you told us in previous meetings that we would not be able to go back to BEST and acquire additional money, what happens if the project, by the time it is undertaken, encounters cost overruns?”
Calhoun cited long experience in anticipating such surprises in BEST cost estimates. “In the budget which I showed in previous meetings, there are percentages built in to the financial estimates, I think, of 17 percent to cover the unexpected or cost overruns which always pop up in these projects.”
The evening presentation included a brief video featuring a BEST build in the Boulder area. Calhoun noted, “Our focus is on 21st Century educational concepts of more team-oriented approach with integrated classroom spaces vs. traditional classrooms for each class, teacher and grade.” He emphasized, “It is so important to have connections to these break-out spaces which enables student-directed learning.”
Calhoun also briefly alluded to the potential for 24 parking spaces for cars on four lots directly across from the school on Gunnison Avenue but cautioned he was unaware whether the lots were for sale.
Enthused by the overall envisioned plan, Erin Cavit stated, “The current area in the commons area and hallways are very cramped and crowded. I serve and help with lunches.” Describing times when she helped out in the classroom, she added, “This is great to have those breakout areas. I would endorse this and support this plan.”
In closing remarks Phil Virden thanked Calhoun for his visionary work and noted that now that the plan has been honed down and community needs identified, the facilities team will now complete the application packet as part of the competitive grant process.
by Sally Scott Moore