Vail Valley Voices: So, what if Vail were a little larger?
Vail, CO, Colorado
The story accompanying the headline of the Jan. 9 edition of the Vail Daily touched on what the potential closure of Red Sandstone Elementary School would mean to the sense of community in Vail and what it means to be a Vailite.
Lauren Glendenning sums up what she gleaned from the people she interviewed by stating “without a public school in town, many are making the argument that Vail would almost certainly lose its identity as a community.”
It is hard to argue that point. But the equation facing the school district is not unique to them. In an environment hostile to tax increases, how do governmental entities continue to provide services when their revenue bases shrink dramatically?
Profit-seeking businesses often find themselves in similar circumstances. Recessions can dent the demand for their products or services, thus making it harder to earn revenues sufficient to cover the costs of production and overhead.
Or perhaps conditions far outside the control of a business (or industry) drive up the costs of the raw materials necessary for production. To carry on producing would require the business to charge a price for its finished product that all research indicates its market simply will not bear.
These challenges are met in the private sector in ways that many people here in our little corner of paradise are sadly familiar with. Faced with adverse economic conditions that have no certain time line for improvement associated with them, most companies quickly begin to implement cost-cutting strategies. Since labor is usually the single biggest expense of any business, it becomes the easiest target for those trying to find a way to balance the books.
Some businesses engage in a tortuous process of clinging hopefully to the staff and other fixed costs they feel they will need for the inevitable upturn only to burn through all manner of cash reserves until a breaking point is reached and no further resources are available to keep a business going.
The painful demise is usually swift and complete – more jobs are lost, creditors are left hanging, and bankruptcy courts get busier.
But in some cases, if the terms are right and the associated emotions and egos are properly managed, it is possible to sell a business to a buyer that is sound enough financially to weather the economic storm and for whom the distressed business represents an opportunity to improve its own condition, albeit at the expense of a weakened competitor.
For this to work, there must be a supply of companies that, through good management and/or sheer dint of luck, find themselves in the position to think expansively, while others are struggling to survive. Some of these companies do not even realize their good fortune until outside opportunity forces them to confront it.
So what does all this waffle have to do with closing Red Sandstone Elementary School, you are probably asking by now?
I would argue that the town of Vail has managed itself sufficiently well in the current downturn to have options and opportunities to think expansively at this time that it may not even be aware of, and that the solution to having a school within the boundaries of the town of Vail is wrapped up in the potential outcomes from such thinking.
Much to the surprise of some in Vail, there is life west of Dowd Junction. There are communities with paved roads, running water, electricity and sizeable populations of local residents.
In fairness, ignorance runs in both directions as many downvalley residents fail to understand (or are too pained to acknowledge) how crucial the economic engines of Vail and Beaver Creek (and, yes, Vail Resorts) are to the entire county.
Just a few short miles west of Red Sandstone Elementary School there exists another branch of the Eagle County School District that has the capacity to absorb the student population of Red Sandstone.
Interestingly, this branch of the school district lies within a community that also has recreational assets that might be of interest to Vail residents. And it is home to a commercial district that, if approached properly, could be a source not only of additional sales tax revenues for the town, but also provide options and opportunities for redevelopment that would free up land closer to the resort core to achieve its highest and best purpose.
The prospect of the town of Vail expanding its borders may be considered heretical to some. To others, it presents the horrifying specter of encroachment on turf that was never theirs but that they would prefer not to see fall into the “wrong hands.”
And who knows if the residents and property owners of the community in question would believe the benefits of attachment to the town of Vail sufficient to justify giving up their proud history of independence from the municipalities surrounding them.
Worse yet, what if this consolidation was the leading edge of a wave that sought to join those contiguous communities along I-70 in Eagle County that had more in common than any of them wished to admit?
It might just mean that these communities found a way to coordinate their activities so as to provide services of equal or greater value than they do individually now, at a savings to their constituents – a novel idea. All that is required is for those in leadership positions to set their egos and emotions aside and engage in frank discussions about what the foreseeable economic conditions truly mean for local governance here – in other words to act a bit more like private sector businesses would in analyzing the options.
By default that would mean that these leaders are considering what is in the long-term best interests of those who live here, own property here, and run businesses here.
And who knows, it might just mean that a school can be kept within the boundaries of the town of Vail, after all, notwithstanding whatever business decision the Eagle County School District has to make.
Michael Connolly is an Eagle County resident. He can be reached at
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