Audits conducted by the Colorado Department of Education in 2019 found that the Ridgway School District’s “existing facilities will have enough seats to serve student populations during the next five years, but school condition and obsolescence will need to be addressed.”
The school district kicked off its facilities master planning process last Thursday with a public meeting to introduce the goals of the process and results from a community survey about priorities. The district’s current funding source for construction and renovation, a mill levy and bond, will end in 2023.
RTA Architects, based in Colorado Springs, was hired to facilitate the process. The firm specializes in school construction planning and design with school districts making up more than half of its clients, including other districts in southwest Colorado such as those in Ouray, Lake City, Durango, Ignacio and Paradox Valley.
In a presentation by RTA’s Brian Calhoun, he described the purpose of the future master plan is to provide a road map for facilities planning for the next decade. It will include identification of the condition of buildings, building utilization, key areas for improvement and district-wide options for making improvements.
“It’s not just about fixing roofs and making sure toilets flush properly but about how we can have the best learning environments,” Ridgway Superintendent Susan Lacy said.
As several options were being discussed with meeting participants, she explained, “The school board went in circles with those ideas so we decided we need to prioritize ideas with the community.”
A Planning Advisory Team of 24 volunteers, including elementary and secondary school staff, administration, students, parents and community members, was formed to lead the process. Phase 1 included collecting information about community perceptions and gathering data from the facilities audit and other sources, which was completed in January.
The second step of Phase 1 will be five team meetings from January through May, which began with last week’s community meeting and end with another community meeting on April 16 and a school board meeting on May 7. The third step will be the presentation of draft recommendations for construction and renovation of facilities.
The RTA presentation showed that district enrollment has stayed fairly consistent over the past five years, ranging from 325 to 337 students, except for 2016, when enrollment dipped to 304. The student population is expected to grow only slightly during the next five years due to sluggish birth rates in the area and the affordability of housing making it difficult for families with school-aged children to locate in town.
Based on the district’s goal of keeping classroom sizes to 20 students, RTA’s analysis found the elementary school has sufficient space for student numbers for its preschool through fifth grade classes. It found that the secondary school, which includes grades six through 12, could nearly double in student population and would still have adequate space.
The elementary building was built in 1972 and expanded in 1996. It used to house all grades, preschool through high school, until the secondary school building opened in fall 2006.
According to the 2019 audits, the elementary requires $9.3 million in repairs and replacement facilities. A new HVAC system is the most expensive need at $2.18 million, with “interior construction and conveyance” listed as the second most expensive at $2.13 million. Other areas that will cost about $1 million each are “exterior enclosure,” electrical system and site.
The estimated cost of necessary repairs for the secondary school are much less expensive at $2.87 million. No repairs to specific areas are expected to cost more than $1 million, with all falling within a range of $24,720 and $935,549. The HVAC system is the most expensive, while electrical system repairs are estimated at $887,058, and interior construction and conveyance at $737,734.
Shane Ayer, the district’s director of maintenance and transportation, said the boilers were replaced in both buildings, but the pipes in the elementary are uninsulated and inefficient. His staff has been making small upgrades to building systems and security as the budget allows.
The Ridgway School District Master Plan Survey, conducted in January, identified many of the same issues as the audit. Of the 248 respondents, described by Calhoun as “maybe the biggest response” that his firm has had to survey, slightly more than 60 percent were students, 18 percent staff, 18 percent parents and about 4 percent community and other.
Two additional concerns found through the survey, as well as last week’s discussion, were about the athletic fields being insufficient, including a desire to build a track and the need for more housing options for teachers, especially affordable ones. Neither Ridgway, Ouray or Silverton have school tracks. The district has consistently had difficulty filling all its staff positions, in part due to the high cost of rent and real estate.
According to Calhoun, the current, best, district property for a new elementary school or a track is east of the secondary school’s parking lot. Another top alternative for the elementary is to rebuild on the current campus.
After May, the master planning process could include a Phase 2 for implementation of the plan, and determining funding options and timelines. A potential Phase 3 would be applying for grants and asking in-district voters to approve extending the current mill levy or bond or approving new ones.