School board delays vote on Red Canyon modular building
Future facility needs for the district’s alternative high school was the focus of conversation at this week’s meeting of the Eagle County School Board. Red Canyon currently has 75 students enrolled and operates classes at the ranch house complex at Miller Ranch in Edwards and at the Community United Methodist Church in Eagle. The church lease was always conceived to be a one-year program for the school, however, and with the 2002-03 term looming, Red Canyon principal Mark Strakbein is looking for a more permanent location for the school in the western part of the county.
The modular building is proposed as a long-term space for Red Canyon. The estimated cost of the building, utility connections, parking area, landscaping and furniture is $300,000. That money is currently available in the district’s capital fund, gleaned through cost savings on recent repair and renovation projects districtwide.
Scott Green, school board representative from Gypsum, asked if a modular building at IK Bar Ranch would still be adequate for the alternative high school in five years.
Strakbein said he didn’t think the school would outgrow such a building within that time frame, saying one of the reasons why Red Canyon has experienced success is its small size.
“We wrestle with “Do we want to be bigger; do we want it to be about the same size?'” he said. “As of right now, we are looking at staying at about 75 students.”
School board members also asked if the IK Bar Ranch is the optimum site for the alternative high school in the long term. Members asked if a larger central facility – one that could house additional programs such as a day care center so teen mothers could attend school – would be preferable.
“The valley is just too long to accommodate that,” said Keith Thompson, school board representative from Edwards.
Green said he had heard from some community members questioning whether it would be appropriate to locate the alternative school next to an elementary school.
“I talked to both elementary school principals and they have nothing but good things to say about the character of the (Red Canyon) kids,” said Green.
Thompson applauded the idea of finding a more permanent home for Red Canyon.
“In my mind, this says to the kids “We are going to invest in you.'”
Other members echoed the idea that the school merits a building of its own, but questioned if a modular structure presents the best alternative. Strakbein stressed the intention is not to plop down a box building in the middle of a field and call it a school.
“The word “modular’ strikes me as strange,” he said. “It makes me think about the buildings that were in front of Eagle Valley Elementary last year. That’s not what we are looking at. We are looking at something that looks sharp and that people won’t bat an eye at.”
Green asked if Strakbein has explored vacant space around Gypsum to house the school. Strakbein cited a list of space alternatives Red Canyon has explored including the Colorado Mountain College Eagle center, the Vail-Beaver Creek Jet Center, the former Echo Ranch building, the Masonic Lodge in Eagle and the Gypsum American Legion Building. Green noted, however, that there is a great deal of commercial space available in Gypsum and urged Strakbein to research that option.
“I would like to see the alternative school located in Gypsum. But I am not convinced the modular construction at this site is in the best interest of the district,” said Green. “I feel we need to look at more options before we approve it.”
After assurances that the modular plan could still proceed if the board opted to table the issue for two weeks, members voted unanimously to continue discussion until the May 8 school board meeting. At that time, the district will have more information regarding leased space options in Gypsum and the long-term facility goals and opportunities for Red Canyon. The board also wants to see photos of the type of modular buildings that are being considers.
Judging by a letter mailed by the Town of Gypsum Wednesday, those discussions will be of interest to several people in the community. After reading a school board preview article in Wednesday’s Vail Daily, the town sent a letter chastising the school district for considering plans to place modulars at IK Bar without first coming to the town to discuss aesthetic concerns.
As a legal matter, the school district would not be obligated to participate in a town review process to place modulars on the property it owns at IK Bar Ranch. Additionally, members stressed that this week’s discussions were motivated more by budgetary issues than by construction issues. If and when the districts decides to proceed at the IK Bar Ranch site, school board members stressed the town will be involved in the process.
“The district fully expects to work with the Town of Gypsum and the other entities involved,” said Karen Strakbein, director of finance.