Eagle County Schools makes moves on Edwards employee housing project

The new apartment complex, as currently proposed, would provide 37 total affordable units for district staff

A rendering from 2757 Design + Build Co. of the employee housing project located near Battle Mountain High School in Edwards.
Courtesy Photo

Eagle County School District is taking its first steps toward a new employee housing development, located just east of Battle Mountain High School. The new apartment complex, as currently proposed, would provide 37 total units across three buildings for district staff.

On Wednesday night, the school board approved a resolution — which included authorization of a lease purchase agreement and approval of certificates of participation for funding — to move the development forward.

Even though the apartment complex is scheduled to be completed around August 2023 — a preliminary estimate — the project will help the district recruit and retain staff, something that is a pressing need with around 70 staff vacancies.

“Employee housing continues to be one of our biggest challenges to live and work here,” said Superintendent Philip Qualman. “At least 13% of our district employees say that they need new or different housing.”

The development will also play a large role in helping the district achieve its employee housing master plan goals, which includes creating 120 diverse housing opportunities for district employees.

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So far, the district has worked with architectural design firm 2757 Design, local contractor RA Nelson, the district’s housing development owner’s rep, Todd Goulding, finance experts and other partners to begin designing and planning for a project that meets the district’s needs, as well as its financial parameters and affordability goals.

“We were really challenged to balance the high level quality in a good environment with our cost,” Goulding said, adding that working with Nelson as a preconstruction contractor consultant allowed the group to help with pricing and get the project to the place it is now.

As designed, the apartment complex will include 37 units: 19 one-bedroom units, 11 two-bedroom units and seven three-bedroom units. As currently planned, Erica Golden, a principal architect at 2757 Design, said that all components are being designed “to achieve a high-level of durability” to “keep those long-term operating and maintenance costs down.”

The complex, as currently planned, will have some covered parking and outdoor living space for each unit, out-of-unit storage spaces, in-unit laundry, a dog park and exterior community gathering space.

Maintaining affordability

A map of the site for the employee housing project and the surrounding areas.
Eagle County Schools/Courtesy Photo

One of the project’s main accomplishments, Qualman said, is its achievement of true affordability for the district’s employees. As presented on Wednesday, rent including utilities will be $1,130 for a one-bedroom unit, $1,470 for a two-bedroom unit and $1,910 for a three-bedroom unit.

“In determining the rental rate, this was one of the challenges that has prevented us from developing some of our other resources when it comes to employee housing,” Qualman said. “Our challenge has been to get a little more creative about how we handle affordability.”

Qualman said that typically rental rate affordability is determined by AMI, or average median income. However, in the past, this calculation has not proven to create affordable rental rates for district staff.

For this project, rather than AMI, the district calculated rental rates based on “what we’re able to pay our employees,” Qualman added.

The rental rates were crafted using the take-home base salary for the district’s certified employees and the assumption that 40% of that salary would go toward rent.

“I haven’t seen anything in terms of employee housing that gets as close to affordability like this project does,” Qualman said. “That’s why I’m so excited about it.”

He added that the district will apply these rental units to its existing supply of 12 rental units.

The district has yet to define the process for determining which staff members will occupy the units, but Qualman said it will be done in partnership with its land resource committee and local teacher’s union.

Certificates of participation

The other unique and “creative” component of the project, Qualman said, is its financing. Rather than issue a bond to taxpayers to pay for the project, the board gave the district the go-ahead for using certificates of participation to finance the development.

“COP is similar to a municipal bond, but it’s afforded to municipalities to develop or purchase their own property if they have lease potential,” he said. “We have lease potential with this because it will generate revenue from the people who live in it, so why would we ask the taxpayers to fund this if we can fund it through a COP?”

This approach will be a “self-funded project through the revenue funded by the renters in the facility,” Qualman said.

The district expects to pay off the certificates in less than 30 years.

Though not located on the same parcel of land, the district also asked the board to approve another project within the same certificates of participation. The district currently rents space for storage of “random” items, Qualman said, such as books and maintenance supplies locally, as well as refrigerated and frozen storage space in Denver.

The approved funding will allow the district to also build out a storage facility on a two-acre parcel of land in Gypsum already owned by the district.

While the bond has not been issued for either, the board was asked to approve its parameters, which included a total loan amount, maximum interest rate and the loan term. The board approved nearly $19 million — approximately $17 million for the apartment complex and $2 million for the storage space — of certificates of participation to fund the projects with a 30-year term and a borrowing rate of 3 to 4%.

Following board approval, the district will be able to go ahead with the next phases of the project, including finalizing the design, securing financing, obtaining permits and getting competitive bids from subcontractors — all with the intention of breaking ground in April and completing the project in August 2024.

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