Ideas abound for old Vail Valley high school
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – As Eagle County school officials edge closer to a decision on the old Battle Mountain High School, a parent this week submitted an alternate proposal for the building.
Avon residents Andy and Jenny Strehler, who have two children in the school district, call for using the old Battle Mountain high as an elementary school. It would house students who currently attend Red Sandstone Elementary in Vail and Meadow Mountain Elementary in Eagle-Vail. The Strehlers’ plan would keep Minturn Middle School where it is.
The proposal comes as school officials weigh turning the old Battle Mountain high into a pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school. That plan would combine Meadow Mountain elementary and Minturn Middle School students at the old high school. Several school board members said they hope to make a decision on the project soon, possibly as early as Wednesday night.
Andy Strehler said he submitted his plan because he didn’t think combining elementary and middle school students sounded like a good idea.
“I wasn’t sure the district was exploring all options, so I just thought ‘Well, I’ll throw the idea out there and if there’s support for it in the community, that would be great. Then the school board will perhaps consider it,” he said.
In a written proposal, Andy Strehler argues literature suggests elementary and middle school age groups should be kept separate. Minturn parent Daisy Baca echoes that concern. She has three young children in the district, including a 7-year-old son who is autistic, and she doesn’t want them mixed in with older children at the pre-K through eighth-grade school.
“I, as a parent, would not want an eighth-grade student picking on my child,” she said.
But school board member Jeanne McQueeney said other research claims students thrive in a successful pre-K through eighth-grade setting. Older and younger students would be housed in separate wings at the old Battle Mountain high, with their own hallways, school officials have said.
Andrew Strehler also argues relocating Minturn Middle School fails to make the best use of a valuable and scenic property. He wants to refurbish the existing middle school and expand its expeditionary learning program.
Yet that plan fails to take into account the quandary of the middle school’s small enrollment, some say.
“The solution presented by a parent last night leaves the unanswered issue of a very small Minturn Middle School where it is, with the current staffing and costs of a very small school,” Superintendent Sandra Smyser said in an e-mail. “The district receives complaints about a need for more programs and more technology at the middle school now … By combining the middle school students (182) with more students, we can offer better programs.”
Enrollment at Minturn Middle presently rests at 182 – well below the 265-student capacity – and has been declining slightly for the past two years, school officials said. Likewise, enrollment at Meadow Mountain is about 200, below the school’s 280 capacity.
Because state funding hinges on enrollment figures, smaller student bodies mean the schools get less money. Operating two smaller schools may not be as economically efficient as running one larger school, some say.
“If you have two schools that are about half the size of a normal school, you’re doubling all of your administrative costs – two principals, two sets of office staff,” Smyser said.
She said combining Meadow Mountain and Minturn Middle schools could save the district $300,000 to $500,000 each year in operational costs. As far as Red Sandstone Elementary in Vail, the enrollment is 267 students with a roughly 310-student capacity, officials say.
“They seem to be at a more viable size compared to their building,” Smyser said.
The fate of the old Battle Mountain High School building has been discussed long before students moved into their new school in Edwards this fall. A citizens’ committee that formed last year to study options for the building recommended the pre-K through eighth-grade concept.
“We looked at probably close to five or six different options that we could configure and we weighed the pros and cons,” said Eagle-Vail parent Louise Funk, who was on the committee.
Funk said combining students from Minturn Middle and Meadow Mountain would allow for more course offerings at the schools. Foreign language classes could be a possibility if the schools merged, Smyser said.
Also, the school could combine part-time positions, such as art teachers, into full-time positions, she said. Instead of, say, having a part-time art teacher who only works Tuesdays, the school could have a full-time teacher who is at the school all week.
“It’s a much more flexible schedule and it’s easier to get students in and out of specials more frequently,” she said.
Along with better course offerings, the pre-K through eighth-grade option would allow middle school students to use the old Battle Mountain stadium, Funk said. Plus, the new location would promote a “neighborhood” feel the middle school currently lacks, Funk said.
“Kids don’t ride their bikes to school,” Funk said. “It’s too far. A majority of the kids are coming from Eagle-Vail, Avon.”
A study of last year’s enrollment at Minturn Middle School found that 13 students lived in Minturn, with roughly 78 students living in the Avon or Eagle-Vail areas and about 49 children coming from Vail.
Some school board members said they wish Strehler’s proposal had emerged during the committee process.
“It might sound good but I don’t think he’s had the opportunity to talk to the wider community about that,” McQueeney said.
Strehler said he had been unaware of the committee.
The Strehlers aren’t the only ones who want to see Minturn Middle School stay put.
Minturn Mayor Gordon “Hawkeye” Flaherty said the school is an important part of the community.
“My perspective on it is: There have always been schools in Minturn,” he said. “We used to have a K through 12. Over the years, we lost our elementary school and we lost the high school. The only thing we have left is the junior high and I’d really hate to see it go.”
But Funk argues dwindling enrollment could spell doom for the middle school if the district doesn’t move it.
“I feel the numbers will drop so severely that they’ll just close the school and move them into Berry Creek Middle,” she said. “Then you have no option at this end (of the district).”
Minturn Councilwoman Lorraine Haslee said she likes the pre-K through eighth-grade concept but questions the proposed location. If the cost of remodeling Battle Mountain proves prohibitive, she would like to see the board consider the existing Minturn Middle School for the pre-K through eighth-grade school.
“I would really hope the school board would consider the remodeling cost of Minturn Middle school and keeping that the expeditionary learning site,” she said.
Smyser said the existing Minturn Middle School property it is not as convenient to where most of the students live.
“If the district is going to combine schools, in some ways it makes more sense to put them in a more central location than out on the end,” she said.
Minturn Middle School teacher Stephanie Gallegos said she does not support the pre-K through eighth-grade option.
“I think Minturn should remain Minturn Middle, six through eight, so no I don’t support it,” she said. “Although I love kids and I’ll teach wherever, I think it would be sad to lose that school.”
Her chief concern is that Red Sandstone Elementary students would have trouble integrating into the pre-K through eighth-grade school.
Cost estimates for remodeling the old Battle Mountain high into a pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school should be ready by Wednesday, school officials said.
Exactly how the district would fund a remodel at the old high school is a matter of discussion. Smyser said the district could seek public approval for a bond. However, she doesn’t think that would happen for at least two or three years.
Other sources of funding could include $3 million from a $128 million bond voters approved in 2006 for school construction projects, Smyser said. Also, the district could look into selling, trading or developing some of its property to offset the cost, she said.
McQueeney said she’s leaning toward the pre-K through eighth-grade option, but is waiting on cost estimates and a list of “pros and cons” before making a decision.
School board Vice President Connie Kincaid-Strahan said she is not leaning toward a particular option. She, too, is waiting for cost estimates and a list of “pros and cons” form district staff.
“I just want to see if there’s anything glaring that we haven’t already heard about,” she said.
Staff writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.