School issues will highlight local ballots – Rangely

Rangely initiative would provide $15M for improvements to all three schools

RANGELY — Like anything, a school building has a life expectancy.
“They will tell you, a school will last 40 to 50 years,” said Dwayne Newman, superintendent of the Rangely School District. “We’re halfway there.”
That means it’s time to put some money into the schools to see to it the buildings will serve students well for at least the next 25 years, if not longer, Newman said, in explaining the school board’s decision to ask voters to approve a $15 million bond initiative Nov. 4 to make improvements to all three of the town’s schools.
“There’s never been any talk the buildings are unsafe or going to collapse,” Newman said of the schools, which are showing the effects of age. “We just need to do something before it gets that way.”
All three Rangely school buildings are more than 20 years old, with Parkview being the oldest. It was built in 1978. The middle school was built in 1984 and the high school in 1986.
“The buildings are ready (for improvements),” Newman said, who had been principal at Meeker High School for the past five years, before coming to Rangely.
Some of the school buildings’ problems identified by a facilities’ needs assessment have been caused by structural movement due to ground settling.
“As the building has shifted,” said Newman of Rangely Middle School, where he doubles as principal, “the metal roof has pulled away from the brick portion of the roof. There are places (where the ground has) dropped three to six inches.”
Newman cites cracked sidewalks and walls and water-stained ceiling tiles as visible evidence of soil settling and leaking roofs.
“It’s just a good thing we don’t get a lot of rain,” he said. “When things start to go, it’s time to do repairs.”
In a cost breakdown of the proposed plan, more than $5 million would be spent on improvements at the high school, nearly $3.5 million at the middle school and more than $2 million at the elementary school. An additional $633,332 would be spent on improvements to the bus barn, as well as three replacement buses, and $32,500 on general maintenance. The three buses scheduled for replacement are late 1980’s models.
Rangely School Board members originally were going to ask voters to approve $13 million, but settled on $15 million, with a $2 million contingency for unforeseen expenses, such as ever-rising construction costs.
“We have done our best to get accurate cost figures; however, we all know significant costs can be lurking just under the surface,” said Matt Scoggins, school board president. “Considering that the overall cost to increase from $13 million to $15 million would be less than $8 per year on a $200,000 home, it seemed prudent to make sure we have enough funds.”
The Rangely bond initiative would be paid by increased property taxes, the same as the Meeker School District proposal, with energy companies footing the bill for 80 percent of the repayment.
If the bond issue is approved by voters, Newman said construction would start next spring, with the work to be completed in 2010.
“That’s what the construction companies tell us,” Newman said, adding some of the interior work would be done during the summer so as not to disrupt classes.
Newman said the school buildings have served the community well, but, because of their age, it’s time to make upgrades and improvements.
“It’s a beautiful facility,” he said, pointing to the middle school. “They did it right. The buildings are very functional. It’s not an issue of they haven’t done a good job of keeping things in good shape. We just need to do some maintenance now.”
Even though it was before his time here, one negative Newman is aware of within the community is what happened with the Early Education Center, which the district moved out of and now leases to businesses. Before making that decision, there had been talk of closing one of the schools as a cost-saving measure.
“I have heard from the board that it was a difficult decision, and that there never was a consensus within the community about which building to close,” Newman said. “It was, from my information, a financial necessity. The district simply did not have enough students to justify that much space, or the revenue to afford the maintenance and utilities at all four buildings.”
One option, at the time, was to close the grade school, and move classes to the Early Education Center, which housed the district’s administrative office as well as the preschool.
“(The school district) looked at closing a building when the enrollment dropped significantly over a relatively short period of time,” Newman said. “The board considered closing Parkview Elementary, but because that would have meant splitting the primary grades between the Early Education Center and Rangely Middle School, it was not the best choice in terms of continuity of service and teacher collaboration.”
Newman feels confident the community will recognize the school district’s needs and support the bond initiative.
“I’ve only heard positive responses on the bond issue,” Newman said. “So, at this point, I’m very optimistic. I think most everyone is aware of the problems we are trying to address, and the other issues, such as buses and computers, are just logical approaches to the district’s needs.”