Durango School District 9-R is looking at its future infrastructure needs, and financing improvements may require renewal of a bond by voters.
“Our buildings are starting to look a little tired,” Andy Burns, deputy superintendent, said at a community meeting Monday at Durango High School. “We’re trying to engage with our community on what the future of 9-R buildings might look like.”
Burns said a long-range planning committee has been meeting since May 2018, comprised of parents, community members, teachers and other interested parties, to discuss what 9-R’s needs will be in the future.
Recently, an architecture and design firm was selected to take the planning to the next step, Burns said. Over the next month, the firm will engage with the community, then take that information to develop a draft plan through the fall.
The plan, Burns said, is to have a firm understanding of what projects and improvements matter in time for 9-R’s Board of Education to decide whether to ask voters to fund the projects, specifically through a bond, as early as November 2020. A bond is set to expire next year, so the school district would be asking voters to reinstate that bond, said Julie Popp, spokeswoman for the district.
Burns said the school district has identified $100 million worth of projects that could be funded by a possible bond.
“If we go to voters and ask for assistance, we want to engage the community and be transparent,” he said.
Lyn Eller, a principal designer with Hord Coplan Macht, the firm selected, said the plan would work in three phases: prioritizing immediate needs, planning for projects about three years out and then planning for projects 10 to 15 years out.
All of 9-R’s elementary, middle and high schools will be assessed for things like leaky roofs and storage space, but also more significant issues like classroom overcrowding.
Eller also said school districts use the long-range planning process to take advantage of more ambitious improvements, like creating learning spaces outside the traditional four-wall classroom and converting libraries into learning hubs with multiple uses.
Adele Willson, also with Hord Coplan Macht, said other communities going through this process have put an emphasis on school safety and security.
“It’s on the forefront of everyone’s mind,” she said. “What can we do to make our schools safe and secure, from an intruder perspective.”
About 30 people attended Monday’s meeting.
Resident Jim McCarthy said it’s important to assess existing infrastructure and have a good understanding whether 9-R has too many or too few buildings for future generations of students. Willson said a demographer is on staff who will help with population projections in Durango.
Jason Austin, a former chief finance officer for the district and 9-R parent, stressed that the school district needs a clear plan on how it intends to maintain new infrastructure should voters pass a bond. Bonds are one-time, non-sustaining funds, as opposed to mill levy increases, which are a continuous funding source.
As it stands, Burns said 9-R operates on an estimated $1 million to $1.5 million for maintenance needs. He said the state of Colorado determined the school district needs $5 million to $6 million just for existing buildings and facility upkeep.
“We’ve got an aging infrastructure,” he said. “And we need to find a solution.”
Robert Finneseth, who has three kids at DHS, said 9-R needs to figure out funding before coming up with lofty goals to create innovative classrooms.
“If we can’t pay for it, we need to figure out how to use what we have,” he said.
Hord Coplan Macht is expected to present to the Board of Education in January or February.