Will Vail Valley need third high school?
Vail Valley, CO Coorado
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – Students will outgrow Eagle Valley High School in five to 10 years, school officials in Colorado’s Vail Valley estimate.
“We do know at some point in this county, we’re going to need a third high school,” School Board President Scott Green said.
The question is: How big would Eagle Valley High School’s population need to swell to warrant building a new school – the third in Eagle County including Battle Mountain High School in Edwards?
The school board this week discussed long-term options for housing downvalley high school students.
Eagle Valley High School in Gypsum can hold about 1,000 kids, officials said. So far, 754 students have enrolled this school year, and officials expect the population to rise by 25 to 50 students each year.
The downside to building a new high school right away is that both high schools would have small student bodies at first, Green said.
“Say we get 1,000 kids at Eagle Valley High School in the next five years, hypothetically,” he said.
“You split 1,000 kids into two schools – 600 at one and 400 at another or 500 and 500 – you really don’t have the population base to offer all the extra classes.”
The school couldn’t offer things like high level language or art classes because not enough students would be interested in each class, Green said.
“And it doesn’t make economic sense for the taxpayers,” he said. “Building another school and having it operate at 50- or 60-percent capacity for a number of years is bad business.”
For those reasons, Green doesn’t expect the district to build a new high school for at least 15 years.
There is some land available. In 2007, the district bought 40 acres east of Eagle for a new high school.
However, school officials could save some money in the short term if they hold off on building the high school.
Building a new high school would cost about $65 million, district Chief Financial Officer Phil Onofrio estimates.
Instead of building a high school right away, the district could temporarily place ninth-graders from Eagle Valley High School in Gypsum Elementary, Green said. Under that scenario, the district would need to build another elementary school to house the displaced Gypsum Elementary students, officials said.
Under either scenario, the district would need to build a new elementary to house an expected overflow at existing downvalley elementary schools. Within the next five years, Green said he expects Gypsum, Red Hill, Brush Creek and Eagle Valley elementary schools to hit or exceed their capacities.
Building a new high school plus an elementary school would cost $80 million total, Onofrio said. Building two elementary schools – including one for students who are displaced if ninth-graders move into Gypsum elementary – would cost $40 million, Onofrio said.
“Is there a way to expand Eagle Valley (high school) without moving ninth-graders out?” school board member Jeanne McQueeney asked.
The school could add modular classrooms, but the property lacks extra land for those classrooms, Onofrio said. To add modulars, the school would have to sacrifice existing athletic fields, he said.
“We’ve grown that building as much as we can on the existing land,” Onofrio said.
Whatever happens, Onofrio suggests buying a 2-acre trailer park south of Eagle Valley High School. That land could house extra classroom space or serve as a parking lot for students, officials said.
The school board directed Onofrio to get an appraisal on the land, so he can move forward with negotiations with the trailer park’s owner.
At the heart of this debate is a theoretical question: What’s the right size for a high school’s population?
“It really becomes a philosophical decision for the community,” Green said. “It’s a matter of: do we want small schools? Do we want 600-kid schools? And here’s what we can provide with a 600- to 700-kid school. Or do we want a 1,000- to 1,200-kid school or even a 1,500-kid school? And here’s what we can provide. You let the constituents decide: ‘Yeah, that makes sense. This is what we need.'”