At the end of April, staff presented an updated facilities master plan to the school board at a study session. First, we want to emphasize that the board has not voted on the plan, nor is it planning to finalize any of the recommendations soon.
What is happening is this: staff are now hosting a series of meetings around the district to explain the reasoning behind the plan, answer questions about details of the plan, and collect feedback from parents. The communications department staff is collecting the feedback and making it available to school board members, staff, and even to the public through links to community meeting feedback and survey feedback received before April 28 on the Districtwide Facilities Master Plan page on the Jeffco Schools website. Comments will continue be posted as they are received throughout the feedback process.
Jeffco Schools has also posted other important links with more information about the plan:
- The presentation given to the school board on April 21
- The 2015/16 Facility Condition Assessment Summary
- The proposed 2016 Facilities Master Plan
- Slides from the community presentations
- Facilities Master Plan FAQs
- Information about current Jeffco Schools funding challenges
- Handout about potential funding options
There are also multiple community meetings taking place between now and mid-June:
- May 4, Conifer High School, 8–10 am
- May 4, Green Mountain High School, 5-7 pm
- May 31, Ralston Valley High School, 6-8 pm
- June 1, Pomona High School, 6-8 pm
- June 4, Stevens Elementary, 8-10 am
- June 4, Arvada West High School, 11 am – 1 pm
- June 6, Golden High School, 6-8 pm
- June 8, Bear Creek High School, 8-10 am
- June 8, Wheat Ridge High School, 6-8 pm
- June 9, Stein at O’Connell, 6-8 pm
If you can’t make any of the meetings (or even if you can, but want to provide additional feedback), you can provide feedback via an online survey that is also posted on the Facilities Master Plan page.
So, you may find yourself asking, why are they doing this now?
There are several reasons:
First, the master plan hasn’t been comprehensively updated since 2011.
Second, you’ll likely remember the debate over how to best fund construction of a new school or schools in northwest Arvada: through a bond issue or through Certificates of Participation (COPs), or by pulling money out of classrooms to fund new construction. This was an issue during the recall election last November. The new board members voted to use COPs to build the K-8 at Candelas and to fund phase II of the Sierra Elementary construction. However, all of them were very clear that they prefer to use bonds to finance capital construction.
With that in mind, the board asked staff to update the master plan and to consider what a potential bond package might look like that also takes into account capital needs throughout the district. The facilities master plan is the result.
Third, we’ve been waiting a long time for the economy to get better and state funding to increase, right? Except that the economy has improved and everyone’s property taxes went up and a new marijuana tax was approved and Jeffco Schools still isn’t going to see much (if any) additional state funding. The “negative factor,” allows the state to keep those additional property and marijuana taxes and allocate it to other parts of the state budget — and in fact, our legislators are not giving those additional revenues to the schools.
Nothing about the current funding patterns seems like it will change anytime soon, so we in Jeffco need to tackle our current capital needs ourselves.
One of the big goals of this plan, besides addressing high-growth areas, school overcrowding, and schools with major maintenance needs like new roofs or HVAC systems, is to reduce the amount Jeffco spends on maintenance overall so that those dollars can be used in the classroom. Updated HVAC and electrical systems some schools will produce thousands of dollars in utility cost savings in the long run. It also means that in some cases, the plan suggests school consolidations or closures, along with the replacement of certain school buildings.
“Why are they closing schools and asking money to build new ones?” is a question we’ve heard frequently. The short answer is that on average, our schools are 45 years old and many have major capital needs. If, however, the school can consolidate two of those aging schools into one new and larger school, they’ll save money in the long run. The equation they use is something similar to the one that all of us use when deciding whether to repair or replace an aging car: at some point it becomes cheaper in the long run to buy a new or newer car than to continue sinking thousands of dollar into a 20-year-old car that’s in the shop every few months. A newer car means few if any repair costs and usually better fuel mileage (or in the case of schools, utility savings) as well.
That said, most of the proposals hinge on a successful bond campaign. Without one, it’s not possible to build a new school or addition necessary to consolidate two other schools. And they want the Jeffco community to have a plan that everyone is reasonably happy with, which is the reason they’re asking for so much community feedback. They want to know which parts of the facilities master plan need to be changed before moving forward.
A few more notes on cost: The plan also suggests a couple of minimal cost options. The first one boils down to what Jeffco is already doing: building a K-8 at Candelas, finishing phase II construction at Sierra Elementary, finishing the Rose Stein construction as planned, and continuing with the district’s deferred maintenance plan overall.
A second minimal cost option is to reconfigure schools in four articulation areas as K-5 elementary schools and 6-8 middle schools. It makes use of available space at the middle school level and creates space in elementary schools that may be lacking it. Note that the proposal is not a district-wide proposal to move to a K-5, 6-8 configuration, but rather one based on student numbers in each articulation area. Even in a proposal that is based on bond money, some elementary schools would be left in a K-6, 7-8 pattern in order to not overcrowd the middle school.
Our friends at Support Jeffco Kids posted a summary that includes summary information about each of the articulation areas, and we encourage you read that post or to take time to look at the links we’ve included above.
District staff plan to take the feedback to the board to consider at the board’s June 16 meeting. They are expected to provide further direction regarding the plan to staff at that time. Staff will then incorporate the direction into a new version of the plan, and we’d expect a vote on the revised version at a future meeting. There will also need to be a vote if the school board decided to put a bond issue on the ballot.
As you can see, everything is in the very early stages of planning. Look at the information or attend a forum and then let the board members know what you think through one of the above channels or by simply writing them at firstname.lastname@example.org.