DEL NORTE— The buildings of the Del Norte School District are deteriorating and in danger of being condemned. They are unsafe and not properly equipped to be ADA accessible. Residents of the school district have an opportunity to help build a new modern state of the art school by voting yes on 3A on their November ballots.
This is the message former state senator Gail Schwartz brought on Tuesday afternoon with a group of school and community leaders. She was hosted by The Committee for Better Del Norte Schools who hope voters will hear the message that a new school building is desperately needed. They are seeking voters’ approval for a required bond in the amount of $18 million to match a $27 million BEST grant that has been awarded.
Schwartz gave the background of how the BEST grant and bond came to be during the meeting at the Ruth Marie Community Center. “When I was running for the state senate for the first time a young man came up to me and said his wife worked in the schools in San Luis. He said the schools were in terrible condition with a double roof and duct taped floors. I was on the capital construction committee for CDE and the legislature at the time and we would use money here and there for roofs, boilers and maybe a sidewalk. We finally toured the schools in San Luis and after doing so I thought there is nothing to repair here. They need a new school,” she said.
Schwartz returned to the legislature to seek funding to build a new school. She first ordered an inventory of all the schools in the state to identify the most needy districts. “Time and time again schools in the San Luis Valley made the top of the list,” she said. Funding for a new school in San Luis was finally approved. “As Ken Salazar would say, ‘I drive by that new school in San Luis every day. It has changed the lives of the students, teachers and the community.’ It is a point of pride for our communities that our students can attend 21st Century schools,” said Schwartz.
Through this process Schwartz, the speaker of the house, the senate president and former state treasurer Cary Kennedy developed the BEST Grant and bond. “It’s an interesting concept in that when the schools have the matching bond the state will support construction of a new school. Just like on a house mortgage they pay the bond off every year. The state funds don’t affect taxpayers, I think that’s an important point to remember,” stated Schwartz.
To date, the BEST Grant and bonds have funded the construction of 14 new schools throughout the San Luis Valley and an excess of $1.2 billion new rural schools. Del Norte residents only need to look towards Monte Vista, Center, Sargent and Alamosa to see the results. “I know sometimes the community may feel this is a tax burden. Looking at what the returns are for the teachers, students and the community general it makes a difference. It helps the attractiveness of the community. Looking around the Valley you can see how much new schools have meant.”
Improved energy efficiency is another benefit of building a BEST school. Schwartz explained that the new building must meet LEED Gold Certified standard which is the highest energy efficiency standard. “It is expected to save the district $150,000 a year. Right now it costs us about $490 per student to heat the buildings,” said Del Norte Superintendent Chris Burr. Saving that money will go back into the classroom for teachers, books and other resources, explained Schwartz.
The school will also have new technological resources. This will help connect students to higher learning institutions and the world. Schwartz believes there is a direct correlation between improved school atmospheres and positive student academic achievement.
“When we have in our constitution “a thorough and uniform system of education” that means the building shouldn’t be wearing down. It means that they should actually have heat and that teachers are proud to go there every day. It’s a constitutional issue,” she said.
Del Norte Bank President Mike Hurst and School Board President Neal Walters stated that a question many community members currently have is what will happen to the old school buildings. They shared that there are organizations and businesses interested in obtaining them. This includes the Del Norte Fire Department. They believe that having the buildings be used by other organizations and businesses will help bring more jobs into Del Norte. It would actually financially benefit the school to not have to demolition some of the buildings as well.
The Committee for Better Del Norte Schools will be conducting community outreach throughout the month of October. To find out more information, please visit www.betterdelnorteschools.org.