The Crestone Eagle, April 2009:

by Matie Belle Lakish
For years, the vision of a community center and school large enough to hold the myriad activities of our diverse community has floated and swirled around Crestone, always waiting for just the right combination of land, money, leadership, and opportunity to bring it to fruition. Maybe its time has finally arrived. On March 15, the Crestone Charter School hosted a community meeting to introduce the architect, Harry Teague, from Basalt, Colorado, who has been engaged to design their new campus, and to gather ideas to make the building a true center for community activities. Citizens obliged by filling the Colorado College hall and sharing their thoughts. As Anne Silver said, “This is a very positive thing. Usually when we get together [for a meeting], we’re fighting something.” A permanent campus for Crestone Charter School (CCS) is a high priority. Founded over a decade ago, the school has been in rented and temporary buildings since its inception. CCS operates under a contract with Moffat School District. Kathryn Brady, CCS Director, says that as part of its latest contract, CCS is committed to present progress on acquiring land, or to present a plan for construction of a facility in 2009. Conveniently, this deadline coincides with a new state statute, HB08-1335, Build Excellent Schools To-day, or B.E.S.T., which was passed in August of 2008 and funded from the Colorado Land Trust. B.E.S.T. provides for every school in the state to be assessed for the safety and security of its current facilities, and of-fers grants that schools and districts may apply for to that are deficient. A high priority for the state is to eliminate temporary buildings, or the portable wooden structures that have been a standby of overcrowded campuses, and which house over half of CCS students.
A CCS Facility Committee has moved quickly to position the school to take advantage of the next round of funding which could provide 88% of the cost of a new school. Fortunately for local citizens, B.E.S.T. funding also requires that the school coordinate with the community to build a multi-purpose campus that will accommodate wider uses. The meeting on March 15 was held to hear what community uses of the facility were most desired.

Citizens happy to respond
One of the first suggestions was that the school should reflect the community’s interests in alternative building materials and employ solar and renewable energy. Teague replied that, after the educational and safety needs of the students, that would be the highest priority. Teague, who will be assisted on the local level by architect, Hisa Ota, gave a Powerpoint presentation of three of the schools he has designed, including the one in Basalt which his four children attended and where his wife was a teacher. All of the schools incorporated a central open-space area with classrooms surrounding, and features that were particularly exciting to students like “towers” and “caves.”
Other features that the community requested were a large gymnasium-type room where students could exercise and the community could gather for concerts, dances, and large meetings. A commercial kitchen was discussed and Neighbors Helping Neighbors representatives said they would like a place to prepare and serve large community meals. A parent suggested that a kitchen could offer opportunities for children to explore cooking, and that nutrition and food preparation should be part of the curriculum.
Tom Dessain made the case for a stage and venue for musical events. This generated requests for good acoustics and lighting, and a space for art exhibitions. Some citizens wanted access to exercise equipment in the times when students were not using the space.
An area for an expanded community library was a priority for several, and possibly archives for special book collections. A number of people spoke of using the space for different age groups, including pre-schoolers and seniors, and stressed integrating the school and the community.
Outside spaces were addressed as well. Tilopa requested an amphitheater for outside performances, and Natasha said that older kids need more exercise and an opportunity to play competitive sports, such as soccer. Others reinforced the need for outdoor play spaces, and perhaps at least a little bit of grass.
Robert Philleo said that one of his pet peeves is parking lots, and suggested parking among the trees. Nathan Good, who grew up in alternative schools, suggested keeping cars away from the immediate area.
Steve Storm brought up the issue of using local labor, and heads nodded around the room. Storm pointed out that there are many highly qualified builders in the area that need work.

Financial realities
But all of this is contingent upon CCS being able to secure the B.E.S.T. grant and provide the required 12% match. Bill Roberts, Chair of the CCS Governing Council provided some of the facts.
CCS is looking at an estimated total cost of around $4,000,000. If the project doesn’t grow substantially because of the community’s requests, 12% of that would be roughly $500,000. Director Brady said that there are still a number of unknowns at this point, such as whether in-kind labor, materials, or land can reduce that amount. The best thinking at this point is that the district would ask voters to approve a bond to provide the match. As the district has other needs as well, it might be appropriate to include the Charter School’s needs in a larger bond for the entire district.
Asked about the CCS’s bonding needs, alone, Roberts said that a bonding company had given a rough estimate of around $12 per $100,000 of assessed valuation to raise the half-million required as a match. However, he stressed, all estimates are tentative at this point.
At the Moffat District Board of Education meeting on March 23, the board agreed to support a bond. This allows CCS to submit a statement of willingness to bond with their application, even though the details of the bond will not be worked out for a few more months. This should significantly enhance the chances of getting the grant.
A location has not been firmly decided upon, but CCS has a couple of options. The preferred location, and the one talked about at the meeting, is a parcel located between Crestone and the Baca, which is owned by Robert Philleo. The town of Crestone is considering acquiring this land through a DOLA grant, annexing it, and giving CCS a long-term lease. Ralph Abrams, Crestone Mayor, said he “would be happy to have the school positioned between the town and the Baca where kids can walk instead of being driven.”
This parcel has been considered for a community center in the past, but at that time suitable access could not be agreed upon. Water has also been an issue in the past, but this parcel could now be served by Crestone’s new water and sewer system.
The big job now, but one the audience felt was do-able, is to inform the voters of the Moffat School District of the advantages of this school and community center to our children, and indeed, to all of our citizens. A second community meeting is planned for April 18 (time and place to be announced) to present the architect’s tentative plan and get further input. The next step would be to complete the grant application, and if it is approved, contingent upon the successful passage of the bond, we may indeed, at long last, have both a school and a community center.