Summit County has one of Colorado’s fastest growing districts | SummitDaily.com

Summit County has one of Colorado’s fastest growing districts

The Summit School District's enrollment numbers continue to climb year-over-year, at a pace even greater than annual county population expansion, making the local school system one of the fastest growing in the entire state.

Summit schools have experienced an increase of more than 11 percent in the past five years, according to a new report from Denver-based nonprofit A+ Colorado. That's good for ninth in Colorado, behind public districts in places like eastern Colorado Springs, Windsor and Longmont. A couple of Denver-area systems are also on the list, and Summit also sits a percentage point behind Steamboat Springs, the only other resort community seeing such growth.

"We're one of the few districts that is growing in Colorado," said Kara Drake, Summit School District's director of business services. "Many of those in the metro area — a district like Jefferson County, for example — are actually seeing declines."

Drake theorized the metro region's schools are losing students because there's less turnover in housing in those districts compared to Summit. In other words, kids are matriculating there, and their parents simply stay in the home. As a result, most of the new development sits outside those borders as suburbs continue to blossom, as do their school populations.

As part of the local district's ongoing master planning process, it estimates the county has grown just north of 6 percent since 2010, from about 28,000 year-round residents to a pinch under 30,000. Meanwhile, Summit schools have progressed at exactly double that rate, including a 5 percent surge from the 2014-15 to the 2015-16 academic years. From last year to the current one, growth leveled off a bit to a more manageable 1.5 percent for a total enrollment of 3,557 students.

Still, the last decade has seen a considerable swell in Summit, which is why the district says it attempted to get ahead of what the future may hold by going to citizens to ask for additional funds during the 2016 general election. Nearly 60 percent of local taxpayers voted in favor of measures 3A and 3B, granting the district more than $70 million, much of which is dedicated for capital investments.

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The annual mill levy, 3A, which does not have a sunset, grants approximately $1.8 million. That will go toward district-wide construction and maintenance projects, as well as technology improvements. The bond account, 3B, provided $68.9 million for building fixes and improvements and must be spent over the next three years with a payback period of two decades.

So far, money has been spent on critical infrastructure needs at each of the district's eight school buildings, essentials such as roof repairs and heating and cooling upgrades. Safety and security elements will be addressed over the summer, before planned class and cafeteria expansions at the middle school, and the same, as well as a new gymnasium, at the high school. Because of near-capacity levels at both, the district hopes to start those two projects this summer, but a specific timeline has yet to be determined. Those improvements may be phased to keep students in existing spaces while work is completed. The district will host meetings to share preliminary designs with the public in late March.

The school system's six elementaries will be up next as the district proceeds in acquiring feedback from two community advisory groups to decide the best methods for handling roughly 83 percent capacity across those buildings. It estimates it has five years to resolve that before bursting at the seams with K-through-5 students, and may look at heavier-duty renovations at locations like Breckenridge and Dillon Valley elementaries, which are each the oldest and have been deemed to possess the highest deficiencies of the lot.

Due to the severity of those needs, and the ongoing conversations happening for possibly even erecting new buildings altogether for both, work at each of Frisco, Silverthorne and Upper Blue is expected to start this spring for redesigning the school libraries for more collaborative space. Summit Cove would then join Dillon Valley and Breckenridge elementaries for likely the same retrofit the following spring, if all goes according to plan.

Once it receives initial recommendations from those advisory groups, the district plans to meet with the larger community to discuss the future direction of development. At present, the focus is on the middle and high school.

"It's a little bit of a juggle," said school district spokeswoman Julie McCluskie. "We continue to meet to talk about the number of classrooms, and where the priorities need to be. Our goal is as soon as students are out of the building, we start the work. Once we have designs approved, and contractor and construction teams lined up, we will begin the remodels as soon as school is out and complete those projects over the summer so students are in the new spaces starting next fall."