One high school or two?
EAGLE-VAIL – The Eagle County School Board wants two high schools in the eastern valley. Other than that, a volunteer group charged with reviewing school district plans has a lot of questions to answer.As the Eagle County School Board tries to nail down exactly what a fall bond election might look like – and what the price tag may be – the board has formed a large committee to look at the work that’s been done so far, then refine, or maybe change some of the ideas.The group hasn’t met yet, but may start work in early February. District officials want the committee’s work finished by the end of March.While the school board is committed to the idea of high schools in Edwards and Eagle-Vail, a couple of committee members said they’re worried about the prospect.
“I’ve been kind of in favor of a new high school, but I can’t see having two high schools with 500 kids each,” said Karen Eyrich, a parent who will represent Minturn Middle School.Eyrich is worried because she’s seen what happens when a school has too few students. Minturn Middle School is at less than half its capacity these days. Since money for schools is based on student numbers, that school has lost several programs over the years as enrollment has fallen.”Will there be enough students to have (advanced) classes if we do that?” Eyrich said of the high schools proposal.As school board members hammered out general ideas about a new high school, though, they came to a firm stand that a new high school at Edwards will be built, and Battle Mountain High School will stay open. The old school could be extensively remodeled or torn down and rebuilt.In making that decision, board members took the advice of building principals and other administrators who have said a high school of 1,000 students or less is a lot more manageable than a big one, with kids on the margins less likely to fall through the cracks.That could leave two high schools with fairly small student populations, at least for the next several years.
Eyrich isn’t the only parent worried that two smaller schools will cost kids some programs.”I like small community schools, but at come point, we owe our kids a look at some of what’s in the world outside the valley,” said parent Nikki Cribbs, who will represent Meadow Mountain Elementary School on the committee. To do that, a big school is needed, she said.”I would really want to take a hard look at a school of 1,500 kids,” Cribbs said.Elementary crowdingWhile the idea of one big high school may be off the table, the committee will also need to look at the district’s younger students.With this year’s kindergarten classes full to overflowing, the district may have to ask for money to either enlarge elementary schools in Avon and Edwards, or look at a plan that moves fifth graders into middle schools in Minturn and Edwards. Both of those schools have room for extra kids.Another idea is that building preschool space in Edwards and Avon would free up room in those schools.”An early childhood center at Edwards would free up two classrooms there,” said Carrie Benway, who will be Edwards Elementary School’s parent representative on the committee. “But I’m excited to talk to people from different schools to see what their ideas are.”Big bucksHowever the district decides to solve its crowing problems, the answer won’t be cheap.A brand-new high school at Edwards could cost between $35 and $45 million, said Karen Strakbein, assistant superintendent for business affairs, who has been crunching numbers – of students and estimated costs of buildings – for more than a year.An extensive remodeling job at Battle Mountain could be between $8 million and $20 million, Strakbein said. If the committee and the board decides to completely replace Battle Mountain, it will be a school identical to the one built at Edwards, with the same price tag, plus the costs of tearing down the old building.Those are the biggest potential items, but not the only ones.The directors of the Eagle County Charter Academy, a public school run by its own board, may ask for money from the bond issue. Charter school Board President Brian Nolan said that group could have an answer by the end of the month about whether it will want money from the bond issue.There might also be money in the bond issue for school improvements, technology and, perhaps, a new bus barn near Gypsum.”It’s a lot of money,” Cribbs said. “But we need to look at what it’s really going to cost individuals. It might be $100 on a tax bill.”Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14624, or email@example.com.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado