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Mill levy an issue in school construction

SILVERTHORNE – Summit Schools Superintendent Wes Smith has never hidden the fact having a new Silverthorne Elementary School up and running by 2004 is more than just a goal for the children and teachers. It could also be key in the planned November 2004 school district mill levy election.

“We need to perform what we promised the community we would do in a timely way, because we’re going to be back before the electorate for a reauthorization of this mill levy in November of 2004,” Smith said in January. He added this week, “That’s one of many reasons we want to get this thing rolling, but it’s not foremost. Foremost in my mind is the need to have a new building available for students as soon as possible. That’s what the voters voted for, and it’s what parents and town council demanded in October 2001, three weeks before the (first mill levy) election.”

The district won approval for a mill levy increase in November 2001 – what Smith calls Phase I. The bulk of the $27 million raised through that increase is earmarked for a new Silverthorne school. The district plans to ask voters to extend that mill levy next fall, and Smith said it would use most of that money to improve Summit Middle School. A third extension request is expected in 2007, with most of those funds targeting improvements in Breckenridge.



Some local residents believe the district, motivated by that financial carrot, is rushing through the process to begin building Silverthorne’s elementary school. Bill and Nancy van Doorninck, who live near the proposed school site, are among those who share that concern.

“The school district may be worried about this (mill levy election) and motivated to push through a poor design for the present Cottonwood Park site in order to not lose the current funding mechanism,” they said. “Would it not be wiser to have a more thoughtful and studied proposal and to let voters fund it over a longer period of time with a bond issue?”



Until the new year, the district had planned to build its school at Silver Mountain Village, a development planned at the base of Ruby Ranch subdivision. But when the Silver Mountain Village project fell through, the district shifted gears and began working to make its alternate site in Silverthorne’s Cottonwood Park work. The Cottonwood Park school site has been on the school’s radar screen as a back-up site for a couple of years.

Because the town owns Cottonwood Park, the Silverthorne Town Council will decide during its meeting tonight whether to give six acres of land in the park to the district.

Many people say that shift and the work done since the Silver Mountain site fell through has gone too fast. The school design, they say, was created for the Silver Mountain Village property and is now being squeezed onto the smaller Cottonwood Park property.

Other local residents say safety concerns there are great and that the site sits in an area likely to experience snow drifts when winter storms whip through the valley.

Smith says all those issues have been addressed. The school, he said, was designed for either the Silver Mountain or Cottonwood Park site.

“Those were the directions to the architect,” he said. “It has been adjusted … there is a difference between the way it would look on the Silver Mountain site versus the Cottonwood site.”

But, Smith said the lead architect, Heinz Ruldolf, has long believed Cottonwood is the better site.

“He looked at that site a year ago and said, “Wes, this is your school site,'” Smith said.

The money planned for the Silverthorne school is in a school district reserve fund.

“Legally, it could be used for other purposes because the ballot stated (the money) is for school construction and renovation,” Smith said. “But the commitment was absolutely firm we were going to build a building in Silverthorne.”

Jane Reuter can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at jreuter@summitdaily.com.

_____________________

Silverthorne Town Council Meeting

6 p.m. tonight

The council will make a decision on conveyance of six acres of town-owned park land to the school district. The district plans to build a new elementary school on the property.


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