Local schools face $12M maintenance shortfall | VailDaily.com

Local schools face $12M maintenance shortfall

EAGLE COUNTY — When the state slashed school funding beginning in 2010, the local school board was forced to cut $14 million and 90 jobs in three years. If a maintenance or replacement project could be postponed, it was, said Tessa Kirchner, who joined the board in 2008, just as it began wrestling with what and whom to cut.

Now, local school buildings need at least $12 million in repairs, and that number could quadruple if the repairs are postponed much longer, according to Eagle County Schools officials.

The time is up for postponing those repairs, Kirchner said.

"To put these repairs off any longer would be shirking the responsibilities and stewardship with which the taxpayers entrusted us," Kirchner said when the school board adopted the district's facilities master plan.

How to pay for it

District officials have clearly and repeatedly said Eagle County voters will probably be asked for a tax increase this November. The school board has until August to decide exactly what it wants to ask for. That request will likely come in a two-part proposal:

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• A property tax increase.

• Multi-year bonds.

The tax proposal would pay for both the bonds and for continuing operations funding.

Four committees have been examining building needs for a year and came up with the district's current facilities master plan.

"The school board adopted it as a road map to make decisions over the next several years," said Jason Glass, superintendent of Eagle County Schools.

Growing population

On one hand, the school district is dealing with deferred maintenance, while on the other, it is facing capacity problems which are exacerbated by Eagle County's growing population, Glass said. Eagle County's population could grow by another 41,000 people by 2040 — much of that in the western end of the Eagle River Valley, according to a variety of sources, including the Colorado's State Demographer's office.

To accommodate all those new students, the elementary and middle schools in Eagle and Eagle Valley High School will likely need to be expanded. Eagle Valley elementary and middle school could stand to be replaced, say the committees that created the school district's facilities plan.

From Edwards east, the district expects flat-to-declining student population between now and 2023. However, in that east-end mix is Red Sandstone Elementary School in Vail, which has all the issues you'd expect in a well-used, 40-year-old building, said Marcie Laidman, Red Sandstone principal.

Replacing the building could cost around $18 million; remodeling and upgrading could cost about 46 percent of that, according to the school district's calculations.

On the other hand, the town of Vail owns the Red Sandstone site and building, the only such arrangement in the district. District and Vail officials talk from time to time about ways to get better, more broad-based use out of that facility.

Following the money

The money trail begins in roughly 2009 with the recession. In 2010, government funding was cut at all levels and will stay cut because Colorado's Taxpayer Bill of Rights Amendment caps tax revenue increases at population growth plus inflation. In addition, if property values drop and then recover, the amendment allows local governments to recoup a portion of that increase without voter approval.

In other words, local schools will face flat state budgets as much of the state's private sector economy continues to grow, Glass said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

Facility needs across the district

Security upgrades: Secured entries, security cameras, door access systems.

Asphalt and paving repairs

Landscaping repairs: Weeds, drainage, irrigation

Roofing repairs and replacements

Mechanical Equipment: Replacements due to age

Electrical: Lighting, power, upgrades, economy

Technology upgrades: Computers, wireless access points, LCD screens in all classrooms.

Furnishings: Replacements due to age

Painting

Interior finishes replacement: Carpets, floors, ceilings

Classroom and facility upgrades in older buildings

Custodial and site maintenance equipment

Playground maintenance

Energy efficiency upgrades