by Jo delAmor
The Crestone Charter School has been awarded $5.7 million by the BEST (Build Excellent Schools Today) grant board to build a new facility. School Director Kathryn Brady received the call on Thursday July 23 with the good news.
Mrs. Brady was staggered by this gift to the community and the hope it offers. “This means so much for the safety and well being of the kids and the prosperity of the community,” expressed Mrs. Brady. “We’re so excited to be able to bring this project and the jobs it will create to our community.”
The good news spread quickly via phone and email. Town of Crestone Mayor Ralph Abrams said, “Congratulations! That’s terrific! This is a great step forward to bring the community together. This project has my full support personally and as Mayor of Crestone. I’m very happy and excited about this.”
Just in the nick of time
The Crestone Charter School (CCS) has been seeking an appropriate school facility since 2006. During the review of the school’s charter in 2005, CCS and the Moffat School District Board agreed to a 30 year contract with the stipulation that a permanent location and a plan for building a new facility be in place by June 2010.
A New Facility Committee (NFC) was formed in 2006 with the aim to find a suitable piece of land and develop a building plan. The expense of land and building have been the greatest obstacles to this effort for many years.
In May of 2008 the Colorado Legislature passed HB 08-1335, Build Excellent Schools Today (BEST). This bill empowered the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) to leverage income from The School Land Trust to fund over $500 million in capital construction. Suddenly, the dream of a new facility became possible.
The CCS facilities consist of 4 separate dilapidated rental buildings on leased land along County Rd T. A cursory look at the CCS facilities reveals so may flaws it is hard to enumerate them. Everything from the size and location of the school to the physical state of the buildings contributes to a truly inadequate educational environment.
Exposed to the elements on their T Road campus, the CCS buildings, temporary in nature, show many signs of physical deterioration and are increasingly costly to maintain and heat. Dry rot and
mold infestation threaten the structure of every building. Outdated HVAC and plumbing systems, together with inoperable windows, compromise the air quality and health of the learning environment.
The current facilities also lack adequate space for the CCS program. The cramped classrooms are ill suited for multi-age classrooms and hands-on education. The school lacks an assembly/performance space, indoor exercise space, reception area, and private rooms for counseling, special education and faculty planning.
Despite the shortcomings of the facilities, CCS has been providing an excellent alternative education for 15 years. The innovative experiential education that CCS provides earned the John Irwin Award for Academic Excellence and, in 2006, the CCS high school program was named one of the top three schools for academic achievement in the state by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE).
The staff and students of CCS have been working with these substandard facilities for long enough. In light of the increasingly declining facilities and the school’s contractual obligation to develop a new facility plan by 2010, the government funding that the BEST grant provides couldn’t have come at a better time!
The new school
After interviewing several architects, the NFC hired Harry Teague and Associates from Basalt, CO to help develop a masterplan for the new facility. Mr. Teague came to Crestone several times to interview staff, students, and local residents in order to design the best school for our unique community. The NFC worked with Harry’s team to create a thorough Masterplan for an innovative and environmentally responsible school design to enrich the CCS program and complement its alternative practices.
The new school design is a modest and environmentally responsible answer to the needs of the CCS community. It will have sufficient classroom and gathering space for 75 students, a multi use gym/ theatre/ social space, a proper science lab, adequate administration space and reception area, a conference room and counseling rooms.
Sufficient daylighting, passive solar, geothermal heating and natural convection ventilation will support a healthy, low impact learning environment. The design team is seeking a Gold certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™. They will employ many “green” solutions to conserve energy and minimize the carbon footprint.
The design team is also considering the needs of the community and the possible shared uses this building could support. Architect Harry Teague has experience creating beautiful multi-use facilities and performance spaces with proper lighting and sound boards.
The land slated for the new school facility is nestled in the pinon juniper forest between the Town of Crestone and the Baca, due east of the kiosk. The new school location will allow over 60% of the schools students and faculty to walk or ride their bikes to school, making a dramatic difference in the school’s carbon footprint and bringing the facility into the heart of the community.
The next step
The BEST grant has been awarded on the condition that the Moffat Consolidated School District #2 provides a match of up to $730,000. It is anticipated that the District will seek a voter approved property tax to fund this requirement on November 3, 2009.
If the tax increase is approved, it is estimated residential property taxes will increase $1.66 per month per $100,000 of market value. For example, a resident whose property is worth $200,000 would see a monthly increase of $3.32 or $39.84 on an annual basis. However, CCS plans to acquire additional grants and donations to decrease the voter’s tax burden as much as possible.
In this challenging economy our community has been blessed with a huge boon of financial support. If the tax increase to provide the matching funds is approved, the District and CCS will be leveraging tax dollars over 8 times with government grant money, essentially receiving a $5.7 million facility for $730,000. This very well may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide a safe sustainable school for our children, a central gathering space for the community and great jobs for our local builders. In a declining national economy this is a truly precious opportunity and a great blessing!