OURAY – Voters in the Ouray School District will be asked to pass a $2.5 million bond in the upcoming November election to pay for essential life safety, code compliance and building life extension projects to preserve the aging Ouray School building for future generations of students.
Brian Calhoun and Michael Malloy of RTA Architects, hired to do an independent assessment of the building earlier this year, told the Ouray School Board on Monday that the building has “good bones,” but needs improvements from stem to stern if it is going to hold up and effectively serve its purpose through the coming decades.
They presented a $2.5 million solution, to be funded through a bond, that would address the building’s safety and code compliance issues and ensure its longevity. Topping this list was a recommendation to build a new sloping metal roof to replace the existing flat one that is chronically leaky.
“This kind of roof renovation would address maintenance issues and it would be weather-tight,” Calhoun said. Such a roof would last at least 40 to 50 years and would only be advised if the district is not considering building a new school down the road.
Other critical repairs and updates that made the “short-list” of 47 items on RTA’s matrix of items that need to be immediately addressed run the gamut from big ticket items like new windows, a building-wide fire suppression sprinkler system and an improved vestibule that will make the school’s main entryway safer and more secure, to smaller safety-related items such as improving the sidewalk that crosses 7th Avenue to connect the main school building to the gym in order to make it safer for kids – especially at night.
Many other items have to do with improving the “envelope” of the building – shoring up its crumbling, water-damaged brick exterior, and finding and fixing leaky, drafty places throughout, to protect the asset that the school building represents.
In certain parts of the interior of the building, there is also a problematic lack of ventilation. RTA recommended putting in a modern mechanical system that would circulate fresh air through the building at all times.
This is especially necessary in the oldest, historic core of the historic building where radon mitigation has been conducted in recent years.
The plumbing, too, is beyond life expectancy in the older portions of the building, Calhoun said. And the electrical system is inadequate in terms of its capacity to accommodate the school’s growing technology needs.
RTA also identified a whole laundry list of problems with the gym and cafeteria building, but recommended holding off on all but the most urgent, safety-driven repairs there for for future funding.
A local committee of interested citizens including former Ouray School Board president Mike Fedel shadowed the work of the RTA architects, and concurred with their findings.
“We agree that the [school building’s] structure is fundamentally sound, and worth spending the money on,” Fedel said.
School board members agreed that the best course of action was to move forward with the recommendation to ask voters to pass a bond to pay for the needed repairs.
“People that have been around the school in the wintertime know that we have problems with the roof, especially,” said Ouray School Board President Jerry Hellman. “Leaking water is not good.”
The 39,000 square-foot Ouray School building is a hodge-podge of a structure. The oldest part of the building was built in 1937. Over the ensuing decades, a series of additions and remodels took place, including the 1965 elementary wing, a small addition in 1976 that was later encapsulated by the larger 1996 addition, followed by another small addition in 2004.
In 2010, the Colorado Department of Education conducted an assessment of the building, coming up with a replacement cost of $17.7 million and $10 million worth of issues that it recommended should be addressed – $3.4 million of which it classified as urgent.
One selling point of going for a $2.5 million bond (rather than asking voters for even more money to tackle even more needed improvements) is that the school district will soon be retiring a mill levy override, passed by voters in 2007, that has brought in about the same amount of money to the district over the past decade.
Essentially, voters would be agreeing to pay the same level of taxes that they have already been paying for the past ten years.
If the bond measure passes, design planning would begin immediately, and construction would take place largely over the summer of 2015. The board contemplated delaying the start of the 2015-16 school year by a couple of weeks to give the project more time to be completed.
Board member Kentee Pasek, playing the devil’s advocate, wondered, “What would happen if we did nothing?”
“You would continue to spend more and more money on maintenance, repairing items associated with leaks, spending more money than you would have replacing it,” Calhoun said. “That’s beginning now.”
“This is something that needs to be done,” Superintendent Scott Pankow concluded. “There is no fluff to this, no jacuzzis and hot tubs.”
Pasek moved to put the bond measure on the November ballot and Jennifer Fedel seconded. The motion passed unanimously (Jane Ross was absent). The board will hold a special meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 2 at 4 p.m. at the Ouray School Library to set the bond funding basis. The school district will post RTA’s matrix and narrative report outlining the scope of its assessment and recommendations for school building improvements on its website in the near future.
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