This story has been corrected.
VAIL — Town and officials from Eagle County Schools started the long conversation this week about the future of Vail’s only public school.
After surviving a round of budget cuts a few years ago, district officials say Red Sandstone Elementary School’s future is secure for the foreseeable future. In fact, the school ran last year with more students than it was staffed for, resulting in some fairly large class sizes. And, if the school board decides to ask voters for a bond issue in 2016, then a Red Sandstone renovation will be part of the plan.
While grateful that the Red Sandstone status is secure, some town officials and parents say they would like more from the town’s school. In fact, an expanded role for the school is a key element of a broader goal — making Vail a more family-friendly place.
These days, Vail parents with kids going to middle or high school face two kinds of trips: longish or longer. That’s especially true for families in East Vail. It can be a 20-minute drive to Homestake Peak School in Eagle-Vail, and it’s a 20-mile one-way trip to Battle Mountain High School in Edwards.
A number of families look at those distances to schools and move.
Vail Town Council member Greg Moffet’s two daughters attended Red Sandstone, then went to Vail Mountain School in their middle and high school years. But Moffet said he spent plenty of time running kids west of Dowd Junction for extracurricular activities. As a veteran of those years, he’s long advocated turning Red Sandstone into a school that could keep families in Vail.
The town has some leverage in the future of Red Sandstone, since it owns the property under the building. But how to renovate the school, and what its future should be, is an involved process.
Meeting Tuesday with a handful of school board members, along with Assistant Superintendent Mike Gass and longtime district land planner Tom Braun, the council learned just what it might take to create a broader-based school on the site.
Board President Jeanne McQueeney said the biggest factor in altering the school’s current mission is community input.
Schools that are now using International Baccalaureate or “expeditionary learning” programs are doing so because parents of kids in those schools asked for them, McQueeney said. Turning Red Sandstone into a school that serves kids in kindergarten through eighth grade, or something else, will take that kind of community effort, she said.
The other issue is the building itself and the land on which it sits. Braun said a new school for kindergarten through middle school requires about 10 acres of land. The current Red Sandstone site is just less than six acres, including the athletic field. Add the fact that the school has limited parking and that facilities from toilets to lab tables would have to be suitable for both smaller and bigger kids, and turning Red Sandstone into something more than an elementary school would be difficult.
Then there’s the fact that adding middle school students at Vail would no doubt take students from other buildings, creating questions about staff levels and programs at the district’s middle schools from Edwards east.
Still, both town and district officials said they’d like to work together to create something that would benefit all involved.
“I appreciate you taking this seriously,” said council member Jenn Bruno, whose two sons attend Red Sandstone.
But, she added, some current attention needs to be paid to class sizes at the school right now.
The school now welcomes any student who wants to attend. That means the school’s student population last year was about 30 students more than its “comfortable” capacity.
The solution, at least in the immediate future, is for district and town officials to create a committee to discuss the school’s future. Moffet quickly volunteered to be the town’s representative. McQueeney suggested that other committee members include people who work at the school, as well as parents.
Whatever plan that group creates will then be up to voters to approve.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.