|Community wide discussion is already underway regarding the November ballot initiative 3A, which proposes a bond issue approval for matching funds needed to secure a state BEST grant for capital improvements at Custer County Schools.
The “Building Excellent Schools Today” grants are awarded on a competitive basis by the Colorado Department of Education, after extensive review and interview processes. Custer County Schools had presented their application earlier this year after securing the details of a “Facility Maintenance Master Plan” by working with 360 Energy Engineers, an independent firm which had successfully bid for the consultative role with the district.
360 assessed and recommended upgrading the aging HVAC systems in both the school and administration buildings; replacing the leaking and dilapidated roofing and windows in the Vo Ag, and elementary/middle/high school facilities; refurbishing the 43 year old electrical system switch gears; adding receptacles to the 64 year old elementary school wing to meet modern needs; re-plumbing drainage systems which do not meet code; replacing failing sewage pipe; bringing the school to ADA accessibility; providing life safety and fire protection features not currently in the schools and Vo Ag building; and building into the schools the necessary security and access controls they currently lack.
The BEST grant totals $6.46 million, and to be claimed must be met by a 40 percent match, providing the $11.2 million project total costs. 3A proposes a mill levy increase to make that match; if successful, the resulting annual tax per $100,000 of actual home value is estimated to be $16.47. If 3A is not passed, the BEST grant moves on to the school district next in line, Custer County Schools cannot reapply for a considerable amount of time, and the local district returns to patch work repair of failing physical infrastructure.
A community group in positive support of 3A has been formed. Known as SOS, Save Our Schools, the pro-3A collaborative has announced two very significant gatherings in the walk up to the November election.
The first is an open house and tour of the areas of the schools needing improvement and repairs. It commences from the Multi-Purpose Room (west gym/cafeteria) next Tuesday, September 19 at 5:30 p.m. The second is a public forum and information dissemination session at Cliff Lanes on Tuesday, September 26, convening at 7 p.m.
SOS encourages the widest possible participation in these events, stating that “This is our chance for a better, more secure and energy efficient environment for our school district for years to come. Will you make the investment for a better, upgraded learning environment for our students and staff? Be informed, attend [these sessions] to learn more about what this means for our school and our community.”
SOS also notes that people may donate to the Save Our Schools campaign fund through an account opened at the First State Bank. Donations may also be sent by check to Save Our Schools at 212 South Matterhorn Circle, Westcliffe, Colorado, 81252. As part of their educational effort SOS is also providing “Ambassadors” from the Save Our Schools committee to speak to local groups and service organizations. Requests for speakers can be sent to Lockett Pitman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posters, flyers, and fact sheets will also soon be available from SOS.
The “Facility Maintenance Master Plan” is available for public view at Custer County Schools and at the Tribune office; it will soon be posted on an SOS website as well. It has been a public document since it was approved by the Board of Education about a year ago.
Of the Plan, especially that aspect of it related to security, Custer County Sheriff Shannon Byerly notes the necessity of moving forward now, saying, “I believe our school’s current configuration is extremely vulnerable…There needs to be limited access and visibility to the office from the front doors. Door security with electronic access for control and tracking is a must…”
Attendance at the two events on September 19 and 26 can provide the public fact and detail connected to the BEST grant and the bond issue alike.
– W.A. Ewing