By Patrick Shea
DEL NORTE— The Del Norte Board of Education discussed the future of old and new buildings during their meeting at the school district’s “mini-gym” on Thursday, Jan. 24. Board members also received presentations and updates for policy rewording, elementary school status and transportation challenges posed by the neighboring Creede School District.
The board broke for an executive session following deep-dive discussions about old and new business, starting with old and new buildings under district ownership.
According to NV5 representative Todd McCowin, the biggest challenge has been masonry. Conditions and a dearth of qualified masons have compromised the pacing for construction.
“We had to hire another masonry subcontractor to catch up,” McCowin said, “and the guys are getting stuff done.”
Parts of the elementary grade rooms and auditorium are in progress. Heating the sloped floor in the theater has been complicated as well, and heating sidewalks for snow management sparked discussions later in the meeting (hot water and underground tubing or a shovel and elbow grease?).
Overall, the project is scheduled to be complete on time, and the budget has swollen and shrunk as unexpected issues require more funds while surprise money-savers allow managers to “buy back” parts of the budget.
While the district’s new building comes together, old buildings require attention too. Representatives from the D Mountain Park & Recreation District (DMPRD) presented a proposal for the future of the Underwood Building. The gist of the presentation was a request for the board to consider donating the building to DMPRD.
According to DMPRD presenter Sarah Noller, a Historic Structure Assessment (HSA) in 2011 identified the building as “a good location for a community center.”
The value, costs and risks associated with registering historic buildings are all higher than conventional renovation. Referencing the Windsor Hotel restoration with head nods in support of historic preservation, the consensus in the room favored the value for the community.
Noller hoped the HSA value would be increased to match renovation cost surges since 2011. In addition to preserving history, the facility would be for all ages. The physical and mental health benefits for individuals and the community are hard to dispute, and a renovated building could easily accommodate senior activities, classes and space for celebrating birthdays, wedding receptions and other special events.
However, President Neal Walters also reported hearing requests to tear down the building. The increased costs and risks complicate the decision as well.
Superintendent Chris Burr noted how multiple school districts throughout Colorado have faced challenges when plans failed and stewardship returned to the district. Demolishing or restoring a historic registry site at that point is difficult. Burr added that an estimated $300,000 for roof renovations was one of many expensive changes. Other sources have quoted a total cost estimate of $4 million, which includes mitigation to comply with code and become ADA-compliant.
Principal Amy Duda provided an elementary school update with details about challenges that below-grade students face when they race to catch up with state-defined standards. Duda said they assess all students at the start of the year. If a student requires intervention to boost reading ability, they are tested every 10 days.
Duda reported that many students read too fast, perhaps for different reasons. “Our goal is for them to be lifelong readers who enjoy and understand what they’re reading,” Duda said.
For poor readers, they are assessed more than other students, constantly reminded of inferior status despite improvement. Intervention involves removing these students from the classroom to work on reading, which also means they miss out on standard instruction.
Superintendent Burr elaborated on the path for a kindergartner assessed below grade level. The state expects improvement annually under the assumption that a student can catch up and keep pace for the remainder of their education. A pupil can’t fit more than a year’s worth of improvement into an annual cycle of constant assessment.
Administrative Secretary Terri Dudley updated the board with details about the policy overhaul project. With outside help, the project has revealed that several policies are missing, others are outdated and some are duplicates. Also, a few codes for referencing sections and subsections are incorrect. The lead from the team conducting the analysis is on bereavement, so they’re slightly behind schedule with the audit.
President Neal Walters raised a few points about plans for an early Head Start program (birth to three years old). With 16 total open slots to meet the Head Start minimum, this would provide incentive for hiring new staff members with young families.
Considering transportation next, Superintendent Burr explained that the Creede School District is violating Colorado law by reimbursing parents for transporting South Fork students to Creede. Burr sent a letter to the Colorado Department of Education indicating law violations and requesting cease and desist.
Two days before the Del Norte School District meeting, the Creede Board of Education discussed following the model that other adjacent districts have adopted. With pickup and drop-off spots positioned safely at district boundaries, students can make it to and from school while districts avoid litigation.
The meeting concluded in Del Norte with an overview of budget adjustments and unanimous approval. The next Del Norte School District meeting is scheduled for Feb. 19.