DEL NORTE—Community members and business owners gathered at the meeting room in the county annex building on Wednesday, Oct. 18 to hear from the Del Norte School District Bond Committee who were present to answer questions and concerns from the public. The committee opened the forum with a brief overview of the proposed ballot measure 3A, which asks voters in the district to pass a bond issue in order to come up with the remaining funding needed to build a new K-12 school.
According to a press release submitted by the Colorado Department of Education, a total of $295.6 million in school grant projects were awarded in Colorado which includes the Del Norte School District. This is the second time the school has applied for the grant, the first of which was unsuccessful. Superintendent Chris Burr stated that the district was awarded just over $27 million to help with costs associated with the estimated $45 million project. The next step for the district will be to get the bond passed for the remaining $18 million.
“There are three main points that we think are reasons to pass the bond. First win is obviously the children; they receive a modern education facility. Second win is administration and parents because of lower operating costs and higher efficiencies. And the third win is the community because the old buildings are slated to be reused. If the bond is unsuccessful in Del Norte, the Hayden School District is next in line to receive the funding, and they’re betting we fail,” explained committee spokesman Mike Hurst.
The new facility will be designed as a single campus integrating the most current design standards including LEED certified efficiency standards. This also provides significant improvement to the safety profile of the school assuring children and staff are adequately protected. A single campus also allows for much improved utilization of staffing from food service to maintenance, which provides lower operating budgets.
Hurst continued, stating the school currently has several letters of interest from local organizations interested in purchasing the old buildings, including the head start, Del Norte Fire Department and the county. There is other interest, too, but they haven’t provided a letter of interest yet. Though the cost for demolishing the buildings had to be included in the proposed grant budget, school officials are hoping that most of the existing structures can be repurposed and repaired through individual funding pursued by specific organizations interested.
The bond would be a 20-year fixed rate which comes out to a $107.85 tax increase for a home with a market value of $100,000. A graph was provided on the back of the bond brochure that showed the increase would bring the Del Norte community up to the average of other comparable communities throughout The San Luis Valley.
The floor was opened to the public, with the first question asking what the committee plans to do to account for potential growth in the community and the school. Burr answered the question, stating that yes, they had and will consider the growth of additional students in the future when planning for the design of the school. “We are increasing the size of classrooms by utilizing additional dead space, such as hallways. We do not want overcrowded classes and will be taken into consideration when we get to the planning stage,” explained Burr.
This sparked a new question by the same member of the public that asked if the need for growth would be an ongoing issue and whether or not the public could expect more bonds in the future. Burr responded by stating that there is always a need for growth if the community grows, but they would deal with that issue when it arrives in the future.
Safety was another concern brought out by attendees. There was great concern about the safety profile of the existing multi-building school. The current campus is so porous that it is easy for parents to slip into classrooms and students to slip out. It has never been an issue, but they were concerned that it was just a matter of time. Burr replied that the new project will be designed with all the current safety design features and modern protocols will be able to be utilized to assure student safety.
There were several questions about the millage rate. It was explained that the millage will float based on the assessed value of the county. TABOR restricts the tax to $1.4 million per year throughout the life of the bond. Therefore, when property values change, the millage changes to offset that rise or fall. If the district assessed values go up, the millage rate will decrease in order to keep the tax payment stable. Conversely, if property values decrease the millage rate will increase to offset the decline in value to keep the payment stable. “Bottom line is that the bond question is a known and fixed deal. The rate is fixed, the payment is fixed and the term is fixed. The millage is variable to guaranty the tax payment doesn’t change. There are no surprises. TABOR prevents it. In fact, TABOR requires it,” said Hurst.
The bond issue is on the Nov. 7 ballot for all voters in the Del Norte School District.