NOTE: High school principal Avi Tropper is doing a survey on name ideas plus many other aspects of the new school. Future high school parents and students are requested to take the following surveys.
DPS has held three meetings in Stapleton in as many months to inform the community of the construction plans and budget limitations for the new high school scheduled to open in the fall of 2015. Each meeting has gotten bigger and more contentious.
The parents say the facility that voters approved as described in the bond is not what’s being built. DPS says what they’re proposing to build in “Phase 1” will meet the needs of a population of 900-1,000 students and in 2016 they will get funds for “Phase 2” from another bond.
Parents fear the costs remaining for Phase 2 will be high enough that voters will reject it and they’ll be left with temporary arrangements for the cafeteria, art, music and the school will have a fast-growing population—a combination that will result in less than a high quality high school.
Board member Happy Haynes says, “I hear people’s frustration but there was always a Phase 1 and a Phase 2. And I think the expectation is we would do as much as we could in Phase 1. And I think David Suppes and his team (from DPS) have come back with an appropriate response by finding some additional dollars that are not insignificant, several million dollars, by the way, to ensure that we have all the elements of what is needed to get our high school started, understanding that the full project will come in the next bond.”
But knowing future bond funds aren’t certain, a group of parents approached board member Landri Taylor to talk about an option for how to move ahead with “Phase 1.5” to construct a third building. “I thought the best avenue was to move things forward and not wait until 2016 for a bond for a phase 2 project that would literally begin in 2018,” says Taylor.
A possible money source Taylor and the parents are talking about is the bond contingency fund, which the parents say is $46.6 million. This fund was built into the bond as a safety net to ensure that all projects would be completed.
Karla Rehring says the group of parents who thought of Phase 1.5 is proposing that the first class could start in temporary quarters, then move to the high school in the spring of 2016, allowing time for the construction of the commons. She adds that since all the athletic fields are now included in the construction plan, the parent proposal is just to build the commons and move the administration back into the space planned for a temporary cafeteria.
Parents looked at the bond construction schedule and saw that all but three projects are scheduled to be completed by August 14. However, staff said they are reluctant to tap the contingency fund at that time and suggested perhaps year end or beginning of 2015. “As a responsible steward for the district and for the entire bond, I would agree,” says Haynes. “It would be very irresponsible to commit contingency before we even know what’s happening with all these projects.
“This is a ‘yes, and’ conversation. Yes, we’ll move forward as the team has outlined. And, yes, when we feel comfortable identifying additional contingency dollars, we’ll say, ‘Could we move forward with completing the commons at this point?’ But that contingency is here for the entire district, for all of the bond projects. That being said, this will be a top priority for me if there’s any way we can get this done.”
Taylor concurs with that view. “I don’t have a problem with waiting til December, but we should begin planning now. The goal is to find a way to fund the building and construction of that third building. If money is found in December (or when staff is comfortable using contingency) at that time a decision will have to be made whether the third building is a classroom building or a commons building or gymnasium capacity.
“Bottom line, move as though 2016 is here today and find a mechanism to fund that now rather than rely on a bond that may not pass.”
As at every Stapleton meeting about schools, some parents expressed concerns about capacity. On that subject Haynes reiterated in an interview with the Front Porch, “I don’t know how much plainer the language can be other than there will be a guaranteed seat for every student at Stapleton who wants to be in this high school. I fully support that, and I support the idea of a comprehensive high school at the Northfield location, and further, I am, and I believe the other board members are as well, absolutely committed to that school being a diverse school and having a boundary, or however we work out the enrollment of choice, or whatever, that ensures that school can and will be a diverse school. That’s a commitment the district has made. That’s where Landri is. That’s where I am. I think every single one of us are absolutely committed to that.”
When asked, “If the school is not diverse based on the population of Stapleton, will they find more seats in order to make it diverse?” Haynes responded, “Right.”
We also talked to Superintendent Tom Boasberg about the rumors that DSST might end up using space at the Northfield campus—and now with the DSST: Northfield campus having a majority of non-boundary and non-DPS students, that might limit the seats for boundary students. “All the Stapleton kids get in first. Absolutely, every student who lives in the boundary is guaranteed a slot at that high school. And beyond that, there will be ample seats at that high school to serve all the kids who want to go there.”