Stapleton parents have become adept at working with new principals on the programming for new schools—and Northfield High School is benefiting from parents who have done it multiple times. One of these parents, Kathy Epperson, talks about that process, “There’s been tremendous community involvement in crafting every detail of this school plan, and we’re excited for the launch of a top-notch high school. As I think about my own kids, who are very different from each other, Northfield High School will be a place they both will thrive.”
But the other side of that equation has been the difficulty of building fast enough to keep up with Stapleton’s growing population of school children. That issue arose again in January when parents learned that due to construction inflation costs—and perhaps due to differences in interpretation of the bond’s scope of work (whether it would build a 150,000 square foot building or just what could be built for $38.5 million)—only 120,000 square feet are being built. That means instead of a “commons” building to accommodate arts, music, drama, those would be moved to the classroom building. The kitchen will change to a warming kitchen and the administration and counseling area become a cafeteria.
But there is a possible source of funds to build the remaining 30,000 square feet without waiting for the 2016 bond. At the time DPS purchased the $466 million dollar bond approved by voters, they were able to get almost another $50 million, what they describe as a premium due to favorable bond market conditions. Superintendent Boasberg’s plan for the funds: “We want to make sure if inflation does move significantly higher that there are funds available to pay for the project plan.”
At the September 18 DPS Board meeting, Anne Rowe directed the Bond Oversight Committee (BOC) to develop a list of the criteria by which projects will be selected for funding with this money. DPS had previously said they wanted to wait til the end of 2014 to see the status of bond projects at that time.
Boasberg confirmed that about half the bond projects are completed and staff is “going through right now project by project looking at what contingency funds were used. A number of projects have used their full contingency, some have not.” (Every project has a contingency fund built into it. These are separate from the “premium reserve fund,” which, to date, has not been tapped.)
Board members Rowe and Landri Taylor say they believe that while staff is collecting those numbers on bond projects, the Bond Oversight Committee should move forward with a list of criteria for selecting projects to be funded with the premium reserve money. Rowe acknowledges parents’ desire to know what kind of facilities will be at the school their child attends and hopes they will take a board vote at the January meeting on projects to be funded, shortly before the school choice deadline. But she adds, “I will say when you’re selecting a school…as a parent you should be looking at the environment. I’m not sending my kids to a building. I’m sending them to an educational environment.”
Taylor is hopeful the process will move even faster. He hopes they will have the criteria in time to discuss them and take a vote at the October meeting and make a decision on funding in November. “That would be MY goal.”
Boasberg says, “The BOC has an enormous responsibility to look at dozens and dozens of competing project needs: capacity expansion needs, school technology needs, issues of building maintenance from ventilation to heating to windows.”
Rowe says as the board liaison to the BOC, she encourages the committee to listen carefully to the people bringing up their concerns in this funding decision, but she reminds them their job is to make their decisions “within the greater context of the district.” She says it is the job of the BOC to decide whether a new pressing need outweighs a commitment made in the 2012 bond.
Boasberg said, when asked if the work that has already been done by the oversight committee will be the basis for decisions about the reserve money—or if they will be changing course from the criteria that were set for the bond, “The BOC is spending time now to discuss what criteria they should apply, but those criteria are likely to be very consistent with the criteria the citizens bond committee applied in 2011-2012 to come up with the project list the voters voted on and approved in 2012.”
Once the board has approved the criteria, DPS staff will take the many needs throughout the district and develop recommendations based on the criteria: first on how much of the premium reserve should be released at this time (Boasberg and Rowe indicate they expect it will be about half) and then their recommendations on how the reserve should be allocated.
The bond committee will look at what the district brings forward and how it matches their priorities. They will then make a recommendation to the board on final projects to be funded, noting if they have disagreements with staff’s recommendations.
The Stapleton parents of students in the 2015 freshman class talk about the near and longer term implications of not building a facility of the square footage described in the bond. They believe the terms of the bond are a commitment to voters and future bonds will be jeopardized if people see that what they vote for doesn’t necessarily get built. They point to the growth projections for NE Denver and the possible high choice-in rate that could put the school at capacity in the third year—before it even has all four grades on campus. They are concerned, given the objections about the cost of phase one construction during the 2012 bond election, that the 2016 bond election will be difficult and contentious if the school needs another large amount of money to build both an additional classroom building and the commons building. They think it is not a good use of taxpayer funds to renovate the brand new interior space to create a temporary cafeteria and temporary art and music facilities that will have to be changed again when the commons is built. They are disappointed that after their kids leave middle schools with significant art, drama and music programs, they will go to a high school where there is no performance space. They are now anxiously awaiting news that these reserve funds can be used to complete the 150,000 square foot campus described in the bond.