Just 20 minutes down the road from Norwood, something big could be in the works for the West End of Montrose County. Some folks in Naturita and Nucla, including families and local leaders, are hoping for a school upgrade. With 90 percent of the funding needed secured, many are hoping a ballot initiative for the remainder will pass on Nov. 2.
Sara Bachman — lifelong community member, attorney and mother of two — said the school cannot lobby for its own initiative. Because of that, she and other community leaders like Diana Reams, chamber of commerce president, are getting people registered to vote and educating them on what the upcoming ballot question, which asks to raise taxes, can do for the community.
This is currently Nucla-Naturita’s third try for a state BEST grant to get a new school, but now additional waivers have sweetened the deal. Bachman said because the West End was negatively affected by Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s closure of the coal plant and mine, more money is now available.
Essentially, a new school for the West End has been priced at $37.5 million. But the matching funds that the community must front are only $2.45 million.
Already the West End Public Schools’ District has agreed to put up $1 million. The West End Pay it Forward Trust, the local endowment, has pledged $50,000 in grant money. Additionally, the Telluride Foundation with the support of other foundations has agreed to help with $450,000 in program-related investment loans (PRIs) that can be repaid over the next five years.
So what’s the ballot initiative asking for exactly? Bachman said it comes out to about $950,000 for West End taxpayers. Broken down, she explains it is roughly $2.45 per month for each $100,000 of assessed property value.
For her, supporting the new school is a no-brainer. She hopes others see the value in voting “yes,” too. Still, she knows some people are not in agreement. She hopes their minds will change.
“I hope my community sees this in an investment in our ecosystem in the West End,” she told The Norwood Post on Sunday afternoon. “Schools are important for us to attract good health care providers, quality teaching staff. … It’s so important to our economy.”
Bachman said the existing high school in Nucla was just evaluated for maintenance compliance. As it stands, it needs up to $3 million in upgrades over the next few years to bring it up to code.
She said the community will have to pay for a school one way or another, and supporting a new K-12 with a preschool just makes sense.
She added the current elementary in Naturita could be later sold to help pay for the costs. She said other plans are brewing now with local leaders to help cover the $950,000 bond. Those plans will soon be announced, she said.
Bachman said West End families deserve safe schools, with state-of-the-art technology in classrooms — where heating, cooling and other maintenance issues are not barriers to instruction.
“Nobody likes the idea of increased taxes, but we’ll never again have the opportunity of $36 million,” she said. “There’s no other investment you can put in 1/10 and get this.”
People stay in communities for schools, Bachman said, and the West End has actually lost people because of its schools.
“Here’s a way to go forward with strong community,” she said. “It comes back to where to raise family and be safe. This is a huge piece.”