Public weighs in on new elementary school location

MEEKER — School’s out for summer, but there’s plenty of studying still going on.
The Meeker School District heard public comments Tuesday night – more than 30 people attended a town meeting – and architects discussed the pros and cons of the five sites being considered for a new elementary school.
Members of the Board of Education will make a decision about which site to go with at its next meeting on June 17, said Mary Strang, board president.
“We will make a decision and choose a site,” Strang said. “It’s really more of a time for the board to discuss, but anyone is welcome to attend. This isn’t our school; it’s the community’s.”
“Selection of the site for the new building is an important part in the process,” said Jason Hightower, principal of Meeker Elementary School.
“This is a big part of it, the site,” Hightower said. “It drives a lot of other decisions we make.”
Advantages and disadvantages of each of the sites were covered Tuesday by representatives from Neenan, the architecture and construction company from Fort Collins, which was hired by the school board to work on the building project.
“We’re not here to sell you something,” said Ugljesa Janjic, an architect with Neenan. “We want to find out what your ideas are for choosing a school site. This is not a building issue now. We first have to determine what the best site of the school will be.”
Four of the proposed sites are on property owned by the school district. The fifth site is owned by Ken Pelloni.
“It would be the most inexpensive site (to build on), because it is flat,” said Andrew Garside of Neenan. “But the problem is the school district doesn’t own it, so you would have that cost, and we still don’t know what that cost will be. The question is, how much is the land?
“We don’t know everything, that’s why we’re looking for your help,” Garside said.
Issues of traffic patterns, student safety and expandability were raised during Tuesday’s public meeting.
The possible relocation of the shot put and discus site, dedicated by local Masons, was a concern of former track coach Chuck Mills, a member of the Rio Blanco County Masonic Lodge. The Masons dedicated the site to Rich Lyttle.
“We have a vested interest that, if they tear it down, they put it back the same way or better,” Mills said. “Our hearts will be broken if you take it away and don’t replace it.”
Strang assured Mills that would not be the case.
“We feel it is our responsibility to replace it,” she said.
A bond issue will go before voters in November. The estimated cost of the project is in the $24 million range, Strang said.
“We need a Ford, not a Cadillac,” she said. “But we need a solid Ford, and a good warranty. We certainly don’t want to cut corners that would have a negative impact on the kids. We want to do this right.”
The building project includes upgrades to the middle school and high school, but, Hightower said, “the priority is a new elementary school.”
Problems at the 70-year-old elementary school include a leaking roof, flooding in the basement, which had formerly been used for music and art classes, and the presence of asbestos throughout the building.
“And, frankly, we’re outgrowing it,” said Hightower, adding two modular classrooms have been ordered to provide additional space. The modulars will be on the southeast corner of the playground.
“Best case scenario, we’ll be in (the new building) by the fall of 2010,” Hightower said. “So, we’d have two more years in the current building.”