Tough odds for Re-1?

School district’s request is third highest among 74 applications

The Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1 is among 74 school districts in the state that have applied for 2012-13 Building Excellent Schools Today grant funds.

The nearly $22 million request Re-1 applied for was the third highest amount in the state, trailing only school districts in Greeley and Sheridan with their requests totaling just over $22 million and $23 million respectively.

Re-1 would still have to match the $21.6 million from the grant if approved.

Re-1 will not know if it will receive the BEST grant funds until sometime in June, but to receive the funds it needs would need voter approval in a bond election for the 50-50 required match.

Kevin Huber, consultant for the Division of Capital Construction Assistance for the Colorado Department of Education said a decision will be made between June 27-29 on which districts will receive the funds.

Currently, workers in Huber’s department are making site visits to the schools that applied for the assistance to gauge the condition of facilities for themselves.

He said three things are looked at in deciding who is eligible for funds with health and safety being the most paramount. The second most important factor deals with technology and the third assessment deals with a combination of issues that are not as crucial.

Huber said the Division of Capital Construction Assistance for the Department of Education does two different types of projects — cash grants and lease purchase grants.

Re-1 would fall under the lease purchase projects since it would want the funds to build a large high school.

The BEST grants are funded through school land trades and the state lottery, Huber said. He added the division has a debt cap of $40 million a year because it finances the grant portions and pays it back over a number of years.

Huber said districts have to understand that being awarded their request only means the funds would be available if the matching funds are available.

“We had schools that were awarded and then fell out of the pool to be funded for failure to provide matching funds,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

This $22 million request pales in comparison to last year when the Re-1 asked for more than $40 million to build a new high school and a few elementary schools, but the request was rejected.

Re-1 Vice President Jack Schuenemeyer said knowing that, Re-1 decided to focus on just the high school in this year’s grant application.

He said if the district was to be awarded the funds, the board would have to make a decision on whether to ask the community to come up with nearly $22 million and the only way to do that would be through a bond election.

Schuenemeyer said the request was for $20 million, but documents from the Department of Education put the figure at closer to $22 million.

He said the 13-acre current high school site is too small. He said Re-1 would like to build a high school on a site that is between 30 to 40 acres.

“It’s woefully short of what is recommended,” he said. “A high school should have 30 to 40 acres with all sports facilities on the same campus.”

Only the basketball and volleyball teams currently play at the high school.

He also said the current high school is close to 45 years old and its age is showing.

Schuenemeyer said it is his understanding that this is the last year where the BEST funds would be available, so it would not be wise to wait since a new school would still have to be built in the near future.

Huber could not confirm nor deny this was the last year, and said a lot of it depends on its board decision on what to fund this year.

“The community would get a high school at half the cost,” Schuenemeyer said. “This is the last chance to get a high school at one half the cost.”

Schuenemeyer said architects and engineers have told Re-1 that repairing the facilities at the current high school would cost about $28 million.

He said even if the repairs were made the building would still not be energy efficient.

He said floating a mill levy and bond in the same election is something that would be difficult. The mill levy money would be used to give staff salary increases.

“If we are going to have a quality education people are going to have to step up to the plate,” he said.” Teachers really do need a raise, and that is important, but we have physical buildings that need to be replaced.”

Schuenemeyer said he thinks the majority of the public in the community do care about education, but added Re-1 is going to have to get the word out about the need and will form a committee to spearhead this effort.

He also said the cost to build a new school at a new site could be more expensive in two to three years since current construction costs are pretty inexpensive.

Re-1 Board President Tim Lanier said there is no guarantee that the board would approve a bond election if the district is awarded its request.

“We don’t have to do a bond,” Lanier said. “We don’t have to take the money. We more than likely would go forward with a bond, but we don’t have to.”

Lanier said the community needs to understand the opportunity if the district’s request is granted by the state.

“If we don’t get the grant, we more than likely in the future would have to pay more,” he said. He added that if it becomes apparent that the community does not support a bond referendum there would be no reason to hold an election.

The Southwest Open School, that operates under the umbrella of Re-1, is requesting $10.37 million from BEST, but the district match would only be $150,000 for a charter replacement building.

The Dolores School District requested almost $2.62 million from the BEST grant program for improvements in the district. However, its match would be almost $3.48 million, according to statistics from the Department of Education.

Michael Maresh can be reached at michaelm@cortezjournal.com