A proposal to meet the required $4.4 million BEST grant local match to build a new school for Animas High School on the Fort Lewis College campus has been shot down by a state board.
But AHS Head of School Sean Woytek said efforts continue to raise the remaining $1.9 million needed for the local match before the school can receive $13.7 million awarded last year by Colorado’s Building Excellent Schools Today grant program for the new building.
A proposal to meet the BEST grant local match by combining upcoming bond funding that allocates $2.5 million for AHS with $2.5 million for a relocated Big Picture High School to build adjacent schools at FLC was unanimously rejected Dec. 17 by the Capital Construction Assistance Board.
The board determined the project to build the two adjacent schools – with schools sharing some facilities such as science labs and the cafeteria – was too different in scope from the original grant awarded solely to AHS.
Later this month or early in February, Durango School District 9-R is scheduled to issue at least $90 million in bonds largely to upgrade security and safety and to repair a backlog of maintenance needs at 9-R schools. However, Durango’s three charter schools, AHS, Mountain Middle School and The Juniper School, are set to each receive $2.5 million from the new bonds.
AHS intends to use its $2.5 million to partially meet the $4.4 million local match needed to get the $13.7 million BEST grant.
The idea to combine a relocated Big Picture High School with AHS would have completed the needed funding for the local match if it had not been rejected by the Capital Construction Assistance Board.
“The effect of the $2.5 million we’re getting from 9-R is that it’s part of the puzzle of how do we get to $1.9 million to complete the full local match and the $4.4 million overall we’d need to walk into the building debt-free,” Woytek said.
The idea to combine bond funding for a relocated Big Picture High School and AHS, Woytek said, was only one plan, and other avenues remain open and are being explored.
AHS continues to pursue finding the remaining portion of the local match through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Facilities Direct Loan & Grant Program, an effort that began in August 2019.
Also, Woytek said he plans to hire a capital campaign manager/director by the end of this month to lead an effort at private fundraising and to explore funding options through nonprofits and foundations to raise the additional $1.9 million to meet the BEST grant local match.
The new capital campaign manager/director would also organize a brick campaign in which individual donors would be honored with engraved bricks at the new school. Ultimately, AHS would like to raise $4.4 million not only to meet the local BEST grant match but to also open a new building debt-free ready for fall 2022.
Beyond the $2.5 million from the 9-R bond issuance, Woytek said AHS has $150,000 in existing small grants and donations to commit to the BEST grant local match.
FLC and AHS also expect to have a land lease agreement in place by next week, a requirement BEST calls for by Jan. 15 for receipt of the $13.7 million grant.
FLC Vice President of Finance and Administration Steve Schwartz said a special Board of Trustee meeting will be scheduled early next week to approve a 50-year land lease for 3.28 acres for the new AHS building and campus.
The lease will have a symbolic rent, probably about $1 a year, Schwartz said.
“We’re working together in a lot of ways,’ he said. “AHS on campus will obviously be beneficial for the School of Education.”
After the land lease is approved, Schwartz said AHS and FLC will be working on coming together on an educational agreement that will outline how FLC, especially the School of Education, and AHS will interact to support each other’s programs.
In addition, Schwartz said, AHS and FLC will develop an operational agreement to establish sharing of other FLC resources such as recreational fields and athletic facilities and how they will arrange facilities maintenance.
Woytek said ironing out details to finalize the BEST grant eventually will provide benefits beyond AHS.
“It’s always a continuous negotiation and discussion about what’s best, and not just for us,” Woytek said. “I think the awesome part about this project is it really is going to impact the entire community. So, in 10, 15, 20 years from now when a lot of us are no longer in our current positions, when we will be with different organizations, this will still be what’s best for Fort Lewis College, 9-R, Animas High and for Durango as a whole.”