by Sally Scott Moore
The first of three informational meetings on the proposed bond issue for remodeled and expanded school building was held Monday evening, July 9, in the commons area of Lake City Community School.
Sparsely attended, the audience was treated to details on the upcoming November 6, 2018, bond initiative, as well as the latest conceptual drawings of the new facility.
Having recently secured the BEST grant and waiver to fund 70 percent of the combination renovation of the existing building and new extension, Hinsdale County must now pass a bond issue this November if voters wish to pass the initiative for the remaining 30 percent or approximately $4 million. On hand to explain the bonding process was Todd Snidow from George K. Baum, an investment banking firm offering financial advisory services and underwriting services for municipal bond.
According to Snidow, the 20-year bond issuance provides an option to refinance at the 10-year mark. “If there is county growth with increased tax potential, you may pay off the debt early. If approved, the hike in taxes would appear in your 2019 taxes with a 2.14 mill increase.”
He explained that this would equate to residential property owners in a $2.48 a month per $100,000 property evaluation or $29.76 a year. With the average price of a home in Lake City in the $350,000 to $400,000 range, homeowners should expect an annual bump of roughly $100 above what they currently pay for the upcoming two decades.
Snidow mentioned that possible legislation is in the works to freeze the high commercial burden which has been exacerbated by “fallout from the Gallagher Amendment.” However, until then businesses currently have a rate nearly double the residential rate. According to the bonding expert, “A business with a valuation of $225,000 would pay about $300 a year toward the bond” in addition to what they already incur.
Snidow invited residents and business owners to bring their tax bills, and he could give them precise personal information.
“Rates are pretty attractive right now–interest rates still hovering at 30 to 40-year lows,” Snidow stated,
encouraging the community to take advantage of the grant opportunity and low rates in order to make the project happen without having to start the process over.
School Board member Tara Hardy inquired about the longevity of the BEST program. “We heard when we were in Denver making our appeal for the grant that this may be the last opportunity because of the uncertainty of BEST funding.”
Familiar with the BEST grant program offered through the Colorado Department of Education, Snidow nodded, explaining, “BEST is funded through state lands, energy production, rents received from grazing lands and $49-million from marijuana sales. Unfortunately, these funds have been decreasing over the past few years. The State of Colorado has a specific obligation cap to those funds. The limit has been met. So capacity has been cut and unless additional funding is found for it, we are down to only 50 to 60 million in cash grants.” He added that a lot of schools, even this year, went away unhappy.
The informational mailer sent out to county residents last week mentioned Senior Discount availability as a hedge against the potential tax increase. When queried, Snidow explained the “senior discount” was the Homestead Exemption offered to Colorado homeowners over the age of 65 who have lived in Hinsdale County for 10 years and claiming primary residence. According to Snidow the Homestead Exemption excuses a homeowner of 50 percent of the first $250,000 of valuation on property taxes.
In hopes of lowering the tax burden on the community, School Board Chairman Phil Virden noted the School Board is actively pursuing additional avenues of funding in an effort to lower the match, including grants and Lake City Community School Foundation donations.
RTA, the award- winning architectural firm based in Colorado Springs, did the preliminary work on the BEST proposal. Last week the LCCS Board voted to award RTA the contract to do the actual design of the new facility should the bond pass in November. The large firm specializes in healthcare and educational facilities, especially those in the BEST program. Familiar face of the project, Brian T. Calhoun, RTA principal architect, gave a slide show of statewide BEST school projects his firm has designed, including the recent Ouray school build which was “designed to fit seamlessly into the historic area.” He assured, “RTA works hard to come up with sustainable design solutions with lots of light, ventilation and a healthier environment to foster better education.”
Calhoun presented conceptual drawings, elevations and plans for Lake City’s proposed $13.4- million dollar project. He noted that the design would incorporate preschool spaces and increase science rooms for upperclassmen. He showed modernized and expanded classroom spaces, as well as alleviation of cramped administration spaces. A new kitchen and lunchroom area in the commons would join a new regulation-size gymnasium which would expand sports opportunities for the school. “We have the latitude with the BEST board to fine tune the plans and confirm your program needs.”
Scheduling, as described by Calhoun, proceeds immediately with two more informational meetings to answer community questions on the bond and initial planning. When school resumes, the architect stated that public meetings would commence to fine-tune the design of the facility. “The designing will happen in multiple phases beginning in the fall and continuing after the bond initiative passes in November.”
The optimistic designer outlined next steps in the process. “Following bond success, we will design through March. Simultaneous to the permitting period which often takes 6-8 weeks, we will put out to bid for the subcontractors in the spring. They will provide cost estimates.” Calhoun added, “We want to be ready to hit the ground running as soon as school is out.” Experienced in BEST educational builds such as Lake City Community School, he said plans will be in place to begin the project in summer 2019. Calhoun outlined that the new portion of the build would be tackled first in order to have the least impact on the school children.” Work would continue on the existing portion of the building over the summer 2020. “The goal is for the kids to come back in the fall of 2020 to a completed school project.”
Two more Monday evening informational public meetings are scheduled for July 30 and August 6 at 5:30 p.m.
by Sally Scott Moore