Traffic congestion is routine at Basalt Elementary School in the mornings and afternoons. Reconfiguring the parking and circulation at the campus is high among the priorities in the Roaring Fork School District\ Credit: Christina Capasso/Aspen Journalism

BASALT — The Roaring Fork School District is poised to receive $8.8 million from the state of Colorado for a major renovation of Glenwood Springs Elementary School, which makes a November districtwide bond election a near certainty.

The size of the potential bond is unknown at this point, as are the details of the capital projects it would fund. But to fulfill the opportunity to leverage nearly $9 million of grant money from the state’s Building Excellent Schools Today fund, the district will need to provide $18 million in matching money to complete the elementary school overhaul — which is simply too attractive to overlook.

“This definitely helps to create a compelling case for a bond,” said Assistant Superintendent Shannon Pelland, who has led the facilities master-planning process. “We certainly need to move forward with a bond election in some form, at a minimum so we can secure this funding.”

For the past year or so, Pelland and a team of parents, staff members and consultants have taken an exhaustive look at the district’s myriad buildings, playing fields and bus barns with the aim of creating a 10-year master plan for their improvement. They’ve identified $170 million in needs across the district’s 12 school sites in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.

The Glenwood elementary school is the largest capital project under consideration, but there are high-priority projects in Basalt, too, including a long-running traffic problem at the campus of the Basalt elementary and middle schools, a major renovation of Basalt Middle School and upgrades to Basalt High School. The needs in Carbondale are fewer, Pelland said, although improvements are planned at Carbondale Middle School, Bridges High School and the Carbondale Community School.

If a bond election is to win support from all three population centers in the district, then the proposed building program ought to benefit a broad cross-section of the district’s 5,400 students. To Pelland, several priorities are in play around Basalt.

Built in the 1970s, Basalt Middle School is expected to receive a major renovation if the district wins a possible bond election. Credit: Christina Capasso/Aspen Journalism

First, traffic flow at the Basalt elementary and middle schools must be improved. Every morning and afternoon, there are congestion problems as students are dropped off and picked up at school. The solution hasn’t been devised yet, but an existing bus corral on the campus will be moved to El Jebel, creating more room for district officials and their designers to work with.

Second, renovations are needed at Basalt Middle School, which was built in the 1970s. The scope of this work could range from $6 million to $16 million, Pelland said, but will include an overhaul of the old auditorium, updates to the electrical, plumbing and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, reconfiguration of classrooms and more. The question about Basalt Middle School is not if the improvements will happen but when, how much it will cost and how soon it can begin.

Third, district officials strongly feel that Basalt High School needs more common areas for students, a new entryway that steers visitors through the school office and some sort of theater space, most likely a smallish “black box.”

Down the road, a new school is likely to be built on district land in the Blue Lake neighborhood, where ball fields and a playground now exist. Pelland said a wave of new residential growth is expected around Basalt and El Jebel, but local schools won’t see an influx of new students for several years. District officials envision a new kindergarten through second-grade school on the Blue Lake site, which would relieve enrollment pressure at Basalt Elementary, but they think they can wait for a few years to build it. In the end, the elementary school may be switched to grades three through five, and Basalt Middle School would be grades six through eight.

The immediate question before the Board of Education is which of these many capital improvements can wait and which ones are more urgent. It’s a given that voters won’t support a $170 million building program, so board members will need to prioritize their projects. To get a bond election on the November ballot, the board will have to agree on a program by Aug. 1.

“I personally feel like we need to look hard at this November,” said board member Karl Hanlon. “We have that (Building Excellent Schools Today) grant for Glenwood Elementary. We don’t want to miss leveraging those dollars. It really makes that project attainable soon.”

The grant has yet to be approved by the state Board of Education, but the board typically takes the advice of the Capital Construction Assistance Board, which has endorsed the Glenwood renovation.

With regard to Basalt projects, Hanlon feels strongly that traffic circulation at the Basalt elementary and middle school campuses must be improved and that the middle school building especially needs immediate attention to become a “21st-century learning space.”

Over the past few months, officials from the school district and the town of Basalt have discussed the idea of a new community performing-arts space, but those discussions haven’t yielded a clear solution yet.

“I’d say there’s still some work to do around that,” Pelland said. “But we want to move forward with making sure we have a great theater at BMS to serve the schools, so that’s our plan at this point.”

Aspen Journalism and The Aspen Times are collaborating on local education coverage. The Times published this story on June 1, 2015.