NUCLA – Voters in the West End School District face an important $8.9 million bond issue this November that, if approved, will leverage a $12.9 million grant from the state of Colorado to build a new PK-12 school at the site of the outdated Nucla High School.
After three unsuccessful years of applying for the state’s Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant program, the West End School District was awarded a BEST grant last June. The $12.9 million BEST grant approved for the district would pay 59 percent of a new PK-12 school where Nucla High School now stands.
However, the BEST grant will only be awarded if the school district is able to match the grant with the remaining 41 percent of the building costs. This November, the school district is asking voters to approve a bond issue to cover that 41 percent with Ballot Issue 3A.
“The ballot issue is a requirement of getting the BEST grant. That is the carrot out there,” longtime Nucla resident and community activist Paul Koski said in an interview on Tuesday. “Hopefully this will attract the voters to this. We must raise the money on our own and I believe this is a really good deal for the community and the West End schools.”
According Koski, 12 schools in Colorado were awarded BEST grants and five schools were named alternates. The West End School District was identified by the BEST board as the number one neediest school among those who applied for grants this year. Unfortunately, if the school district cannot come up with its 41 percent of the building costs, the BEST grant approved for the district will go to one of the five alternates.
The school district’s buildings are all outdated and in need of work. Koski said the Nucla High School, which opened in 1954, is built on a rocky location and doesn’t meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements; the lighting in the classrooms is subpar, and the electrical systems are inadequate.
“It’s an old school,” he said. “There is no fire access around the back side of the building and that has been a stickler with the state fire marshal. Mechanical, the heating system, is hot water pipes through radiators. Those old steel pipes are clogged. The list goes on and on.
“Our hands are really tied at doing the necessary repairs and in the long run, it’s cheaper to build a new school.”
In 2010 and 2011, a group of community members, school board members and school staff held 13 public planning meetings in order to develop the district comprehensive plan, which recommends a new PK-12 school on the Nucla site, and incorporating the historic stone building into the design. Preliminary planning has been done to identify the programming needs of the school. However, the building’s floor plan and exterior/interior appearance have not yet been designed.
Since student enrollment at the district has been dropping, the plan is to build a new school that would house pre-kindergarten through grade 12. The plan the BEST Board approved stipulates that if a new school is built, there must be room available for expansion if population in the area increases.
If the bond passes, the school district plans to start the community-input and design process immediately after the election. Actual construction would begin in late spring or summer of 2013.
According to information released by the school district, the tax impact for a residential property would be approximately $5 per month for every $100,000 of market value; approximately $18.20 per month for every $100,000 of commercial market value; 84 cents per acre per year of meadow hay; 10 cents per acre per year for grazing; and $2.12 per acre per year on irrigated lands in the district.
If the bond does not pass, the school district, according to its information, will continue to address its infrastructure issues and will likely have to go back to the community for help but possibly without the BEST grant to pay for over half of the districts needs.
“This is a conversation this community has been needing to have for quite some time,” Koski said. “I am really glad to have this opportunity to bring it forward and talk about it. This will be a personal decision for everybody and I know some people will have a tough time voting for any kind of tax increase, but this community needs to move forward. Our kids get out and they go around and they see other schools and the opportunities their peers have. Then they come back to our facility and I can only wonder what they think of it.”
The school district has calculated every property owner’s tax bill in the district and anyone wishing to know what their specific tax increase would be should the measure pass can call 970/864-7350.