Durango School District 9-R is taking a hard look at its aging buildings and floating some big ideas, such as replacing Miller Middle School, closing and selling Florida Mesa Elementary School, and selling its downtown campus that includes administration offices and Big Picture High School.
The district is considering the long-term future of its buildings as part of a facilities master planning process expected to wrap up in January. The new master plan will inform whether the district asks for a property tax extension or increase, and if so, how much. The tax could be used to pay for construction projects, new equipment, furniture and technology.
The existing mill levy for capital projects is 8.692 mills, or about $186.44 per year for a $300,000 house, said Emily Harris, property records coordinator with the La Plata County Assessor’s Office.
The district may ask voters for an extension of an existing bond, which would provide $90 million for the district, or a possible increase in property taxes, which could provide up to $110 million for district projects, according to a district survey.
The master plan is expected to identify far more needs than a bond could pay for, but it will inform future decisions, said Superintendent Dan Snowberger.
“We know we aren’t going to be able to do everything everyone wants to do,” he said. “We are going to say: What are the largest projects that will be the greatest leverage for our community? Let’s do that with a bond.”
Last week, Durango School District 9-R consultant Lyn Eller presented some of the high-level priorities the district has already identified for its facilities, such as building efficiency, adaptive learning areas, and safety and security. He also outlined big changes the district is asking the community for feedback on.
New buildingsThe district is considering whether to close and replace Miller Middle School and Florida Mesa Elementary School because they are old, Eller said.
Miller Middle School was built in 1961 and has asbestos problems that need to be mitigated, pipes in need of constant maintenance, and boilers and a heating-and-ventilation system that are aging, said Ed Webb, 9-R’s director of facilities.
“It’s our money pit,” Snowberger said. “It’s where we are having to invest an awful lot of money to keep the existing facility functioning.”
Miller needs a vestibule that would require visitors to check in with school staff members to make it more safe, he said. But a secure entryway is difficult to build because the front doors lead into a cafeteria, Snowberger said.
Snowberger also pointed out the building has traffic-pattern problems and a crumbling hillside above the field that would need a retaining wall.
Miller could be replaced on site with a new building, which could require $46 million to $50 million. Another solution would be to build a new pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school in Three Springs subdivision, a project that would require $40 million to $43 million, Eller said.
The new pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school could also replace Florida Mesa Elementary and provide a safer campus because it would be in a neighborhood rather than along a highway, Eller said. Florida Mesa’s water source has a high level of fluoride that requires reverse osmosis treatment, which is expensive, Snowberger said. A new facility in a new location could resolve that problem. The sale of Florida Mesa could generate $1 million to $2 million.
Other options for new district buildings include a new elementary school at Twin Buttes subdivision, an $18 million to $20 million project; a new stand-alone elementary school in Three Springs, a $35 million to $38 million project; and a new stand-alone middle school in Three Springs, a $48 million to $58 million investment, according to Eller’s presentation.
The district could also work with Fort Lewis College on a new high school that could be on the college’s campus, Snowberger said. The master planners haven’t yet evaluated the cost of such a project.
Districtwide projects The district is evaluating upgrades needed districtwide to address deferred maintenance, upgrade technology, improve energy efficiency, better secure buildings and provide space that could accommodate programs for special-needs students and small-group learning, Eller said.
Addressing deferred maintenance and upgrading technology is resonating among the community, according to early survey results, said district spokeswoman Julie Popp.
Paying for all of the deferred maintenance projects, such as paint, new carpet and upgrading buildings to provide accommodations for residents with disabilities, would require $35 million to $40 million.
Energy efficiency improvements such as new windows, better insulation, solar power, and upgraded heating and air-conditioning systems would carry the heaviest price tag at $45 million to $50 million.
Cost-saving optionsThe district could save money long term by selling the district’s downtown campus and establishing administrative offices in a school that is less expensive to maintain, Eller said. The sale of the district’s downtown campus could generate $12 million to $15 million for other projects.
The district could also consider closing low-enrollment elementary schools when they are no longer economically viable, he said. The district is seeing a dropping birth rate that is expected to lead to smaller elementary school classes, he said. Closing schools could save $1.5 million to $3 million a year.