Avon, Eagle County had room for buses
Some officials in the valley say the school district might not have exhausted all of its possibilities for storing buses before seeking the tax increase voters rejected Tuesday.
Voters defeated a request to increase their property taxes by $4.3 million annually for 2004 and 2005 for technology, building and maintenance uses, as well as a new transportation center. The question failed by 813 votes, with 1,905 voting for the tax increase and 2,518 against it.
Before former school superintendent Mel Preusser retired in May, he had discussed the idea of sharing maintenance and bus hubs with Avon and Eagle County, officials said.
“We talked with Mel about the idea of the school district using Swift Gulch,” said Larry Brooks, Avon town manager, referring to a town-owned parking lot on the north side of Interstate 70. “Swift Gulch would address everyone upvalley and ECO Transit would address all the people downvalley.”
But school district officials say they were exploring their options. Partnering with other agencies could have multiple challenges tied with it, Superintendent John Brendza said Monday.
In the last three years, the school district met with ECO Transit about a partnership, but no decisions were made then and no offers were received, Brendza said.
Brendza was asked by Preusser to revisit the options of partnering with other agencies about a year ago, Brendza said.
“There have been conversations, but no offers,” Brendza said. “Nothing was presented to the district.”
But Brooks said Avon would be willing to share maintenance and services because it’s a benefit to the town.
“We have a certain amount of debt and fixed costs, and if we can spread it over to our services then it’s a benefit to us,” Brooks said. “It would be nice if the school district did it, but we never heard back from (Brendza).”
Avon’s transportation center houses buses from Beaver Creek, ECO Transit, fire trucks from the fire district and provides maintenance and services for all of those vehicles, Brooks said.
“The more we have the less we have to recover the (revenue) costs,” he said. “Avon would be willing to talk with them about it.”
The defeat of the tax increase now has the district searching for other funding options.
“I’m disappointed because now we need to regroup,” said Barbara Schierkolk, outgoing president of the Eagle County School Board. “We didn’t just need a place to house buses but a place to take care of all of everything. We really needed those funds.”
Schierkolk said the tax increase was needed for more than a bus barn. School district officials say they were simply running out of room for their buses.
“Some people were under the impression that it was just to house the buses, but we’ve been working out of the same facility for 30 years,” Schierkolk said.
About 14 school buses fit in the county’s existing parking lot in Eagle, but the school district needed to make room for about a dozen more, Karen Strakbein, financial director for the Eagle County School District, said before Tuesday’s election.
“We’ve been farming out those other buses, or else they’ve been in bus loops throughout the school year,” Strakbein said. “There’s not enough room to expand because there’s absolutely no land space by the administrative building. We’re looking at relocating the transportation center.”
The school district has two bus lots: one by Battle Mountain High School and one next the administrative offices in Eagle.
A few bus drivers, she said, have kept the buses on their farms or ranches because there was no more room to store them at the lot in Eagle. Travelers can see some of the buses housed at a ranch near Dotsero.
“For several years, we’ve outgrown our space,” Strakbein said. “There’s no more farming out at various households throughout the valley.”
The crowded storage area in Eagle was built in the early 1970s, Brendza said before the vote.
“We really haven’t kept up with the needs of the people,” Brendza said earlier this summer. “We need to build a more up-to-date and spacious transportation center and work on more space for buses.”
Christine Ina Casillas can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607 or at email@example.com.