Summit School District sets initial strategy for county’s primary schools
April 19, 2017
Accepting the direction of two community-led advisory groups late last week, the Summit School District's Board of Education is largely taking a wait-and-see approach on next steps for Summit County's six elementary schools.
Since October, two committees representing the north and south ends of the county have met periodically to provide citizen input on the current and future use of school buildings. The process was part of the district's second phase of a master facilities plan, which set out to produce a roadmap for maintaining modern learning environments through new construction, expansions and potential rebuilds.
In November, following the completion of the first phase of master planning to assess impending needs, the district received voter approval on more than $70 million in funds this year through a bond measure and mill levy to address critical deficiencies. The mill levy of $1.8 million renews annually for capital construction and technology improvements, while the $68.9 million bond must be spent within three years.
Roughly 70 percent of that money is dedicated to renovations at the high school and middle school, with each undergoing facelifts for expanded cafeterias and upwards of a dozen classrooms, and then a second gymnasium at Summit High. That left decisions regarding the elementaries — Dillon Valley, Frisco, Silverthorne and Summit Cove on the north end, Breckenridge and Upper Blue on the south — for a later date, and the district desired public feedback before moving forward.
"It really is about the future of our six elementary schools," said district spokeswoman Julie McCluskie. "Through a lot of complex and challenging conversations we now understand the different viewpoints."
Perhaps the weightiest decision to come from the respective advisory groups was to completely reinvest in the restoration and enlarging of Dillon Valley, and to remain in a holding pattern for up to two years on how to proceed with Breckenridge Elementary. The two schools, both completed in 1972, are the district's oldest buildings and in some of the worst shape. Dillon Valley requires $3.8 million in critical repairs, while Breckenridge needs a little more than $1.2 million.
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Razing each building and simply starting over had been under consideration — and that may still happen with Breckenridge down the road — but demolishing Dillon Valley was ultimately deemed too detrimental to the area it serves on the south end.
"Dillon Valley is really a community building," said Lynn Ryckman, a member of the south end committee and whose three children have all attended the elementary. "A lot of families walk to the school … and we felt it really important to keep the school in the community and not scrape it or put it somewhere else. That whole community piece is very important."
As a result, the district will spend the $3.8 million on the dual-language program school, and then kick between $2 million to $2.5 million more toward its expansion to meet future capacity demands. And what is clear concerning Breckenridge Elementary for the meanwhile is that should a similar revamp eventually take place, or the school possibly be relocated adjacent to Upper Blue to create one centralized north end campus, the district would likely need to go back to voters for more money. However, the district said it does not plan to do that for at least four years.
"The consensus was with so many unknowns right now in terms of new workforce housing developments either being built soon or in the works, I feel like the group and the school district said, 'Let's see what happens,'" said County Commissioner Dan Gibbs, a member of the north end committee.
Outside of the choices regarding those two elementaries, what to do with the other property owned by the district throughout the county also necessitated a verdict, at least initially. Spanning about 30 acres — 8 in Breckenridge just north of Upper Blue Elementary, 10 in the heart of Silverthorne and 13 next to to Summit High — will be crucial to the public school system's future. How to take advantage of those assets or leverage them to place the district in the best possible position was one of the major questions put to the two committees.
Both recommended the school board wait on the land near the high school until the town of Breckenridge completes its own master plan on the 250-plus-acre Block 11 parcel intended for workforce housing. Depending on how that shakes out, both committees felt exploring a partnership for the property to develop housing, an early childhood center or athletic field house would be most appropriate.
Similarly, the 8 acres near Upper Blue, as part of Block 11, coincide with that determination while the town settles on a direction. Then, some work being done by a group striving for universal preschool across the county for all 4-year-olds precludes making a final call on what may be built at the 10-acre site in Silverthorne.