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Vail Valley school closures possible

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Unless more families start moving to Eagle-Vail and Minturn, there’s a possibility the school district will have to close two beloved neighborhood schools, Meadow Mountain Elementary and Minturn Middle School.

While downvalley schools like Red Hill Elementary grow crowded and near capacity as more families move to Eagle and Gypsum, growth at Minturn Midddle School and Meadow Mountain Elementary has flattened. Fewer than 200 students attend each school, well below their capacities.

The schools have been under-capacity for years, district officials say.

Fewer students means less money, but these schools still need the same basic things ” custodians, secretaries, teachers and a principal ” to run. Keeping these neighborhood schools alive then becomes inefficient and costly, said Phil Onofrio, chief financial officer for the school district.

“If you’re running a bunch of small schools, economically, that drains the district,” Onofrio said.

The community will have to soon make some very tough decisions about how important keeping those small schools is in relation to how much they cost to run, and also what kids there might be missing out on.

Students at small schools sometimes don’t have the resources larger schools have, like full-time teachers for subjects like music, art and P.E. This means certain programs at the high school level, like the band program at Battle Mountain High School, will end up with low enrollments because the students aren’t starting in elementary in middle school.

“You end up with a (part-time) P.E. teacher or you can’t afford a band program, and that’s not a good educational environment,” Onofrio said. “You can keep all these neighborhood schools, but if you see what they are missing educationally, it’s more difficult.”

For now, the school district has no idea what will actually happen, but if possible wants to avoid closing schools ” which typically is an unpleasant experience for everyone.

“The very last thing we want to do is close any of our schools,” said Brooke Skjonsby, spokeswoman for the school district. “We know it’s traumatic for a town, communities, parents, students and staff.”

Lots of things could affect the school district’s decision. A big factor in the future of those schools could be what happens to the existing Battle Mountain High School building after students move into the new high school being built in Edwards.

The school board formed a committee, made up of school staff and community members, to find the best way to use the large and soon-to-be-empty building. The committee has a lot of ideas ” it’s possible Battle Mountain could remain a school, become housing or ecome the future home to student advocacy and nonprofit groups like the Youth Foundation, which the school district works closely with to help students.

The school district is also participating in the Urban Land Institute Study for Eagle-Vail, which is examining how to best use land in the neighborhood and market recreation facilities. What’s discovered in that study could effect the district’s decision as well.

If the Battle Mountain site becomes a housing complex, there would be more families coming in, and the problem could go away. The school district is also unsure as to how the Ginn Development, which is planning a private ski resort south of Minturn, will effect the situation.

If Ginn brings in families, there won’t be a need to shut down the schools, Onofrio said.

“If kids are in the buildings, then we don’t have an issue,” Onofrio said.

Any problem involving school closures can also be helped with money, Onofrio said.

If a town were to buy four more teachers for a school ” then kids wouldn’t be missing out on those activities that kids have at other schools.

On Wednesday, the Minturn Town Council unanimously approved a resolution stating that Minturn Middle School shouldn’t be closed.

“The residents of this town are not willing to give up that school,” Town Councilwoman Shelley Bellm said.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.


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