Fourth-grader Malachy Swonger explains improvements
needed in Silverton School’s fire-alarm system and the
need for an elevator for handicapped access during an
open house at the school Thursday, Sept, 17 to inform
the public about the need for the major school renovation
project. Listening to Swonger are, from left, fourth- and
fifth-grade teacher Jennifer Ross, Harley Murray, James
Manning, Janet Hubert and Melody Skinner.
Students give citizens tour to show what the project is all about
By Mark Esper
Fourth grader Malachy Swonger explained how Silverton School’s fire alarms and security systems need to be brought into the 21st Century.
“Right now, Ms. White just uses a bullhorn,” in the event of a security problem, he said, referring to School Superintendent Kim White.
Swonger was among the students serving as guides Thursday evening, Sept. 17, as dozens of Silverton residents toured Silverton School facilities to learn more about the upcoming bond election to overhaul the school and gym.
The measure will ask voters to approve a levy of $115,000 a year to finance a 20-year, $1.2 million bond to help cover the school district’s portion of the project cost.
The expected mill levy of 1.613 would translate into $25.68 a year property tax increase on a home valued at $200,000, or $38.52 a year for a home valued at $300,000, school officials said.
That mill levy would be adjusted slightly to keep the annual levy at $115,000 district-wide.
A school too cool
Among the highlights of the evening was an update on the geo-thermal exploration that has been going on beneath the school playground in recent days.
A drill rig pulled into town a couple weeks ago and drilled a couple test holes a couple hundred feet deep, finding a ground temperature of about 47 degrees. And that could be enough to make a geo-exchange heating system feasible.
“So far as we know thing are going well,” said Trey Austin, an engineer with Geo-Energy Services of Denver. “Ground thermal conductivity test results are pending.”
Those tests “determine how much energy the ground will provide to the system,” he said.
That data can then be used to design the system that would be suitable for the school.
The $20,000 test drilling was paid for by the school district.
White said “we waited until we were sure we were going to be awarded the (BEST) grant” before proceeding with the test drilling.
She explained that making the 98-year-old school building more energy efficient is part of the grant requirement, so the feasibility of geo-exchange heating is being looked at.
It’s all part of an $11.8 million project to address a number of building needs with the gym and school.
Addressing the school’s urgent need for a new heating system is a big part of the project.
The school’s old coal-fired boiler gave out last November, but the school system got through the winter with electric garage heaters.
For this winter, flat-panel electric heaters have been mounted on classroom walls, and a combination electrical/thermal system will heat the gymnasium.
White said electrical thermal storage boilers for the gym are planned, using off-peak electricity to store heat in ceramic bricks to dissipate during the day.
White noted the ordeal the school district went through with heating problems last winter.
“I’m never going to be in a situation where we don’t have a backup heating system,” White said. “I learned that lesson last winter.”
Meanwhile, the Colorado State Historical Society awarded $342,188 earlier this month for exterior restoration and improvements of the 1911 school building.
The project will relocate the entryway to its original location on Snowden Street, restore the deteriorating historic exterior trim to its original state, and repair and replace windows and exterior entryways in a historically sensitive manner. The school district will provide $100,000 as a cash match.
The total project costs are $769,325 and part of the overall rehabilitation of the facilities as part of the Colorado Department of Education’s BEST (Building Excellent Schools Tomorrow) grant award. Construction should begin in spring 2010.
The school overhaul project also will allow the school to become more of a community center, White said. A new lunchroom-kitchen could be used for commercial purposes after school hours. The gym could become a recreational center. The art room could be the site for adult pottery classes.
Need for the bond
At the open house last week, White said the school district, with its 64 students, will face stark choices if the bond measure is not approved by voters on Nov. 3.
“If the bond doesn’t pass, we’re left with an essential list of things we have to do for safety,” White said, adding up to more than $2 million.
“We’ll be pretty much in the same precarious situation,” but unable to access the grants now offered to the district due to lack of local matching funds.
She said the school district has no choice but to address its facilities needs.
“We’re going to reach a point where we really have significant safety issues with this school and they’re going to have to be addressed,” White said.
School officials emphasized that the mill levy to support the bond measure cannot be diverted for anything else, should it be paid off early.
They also noted that while the ballot proposal will give the school district authority to issue a bond of up to $1.2 million, that much may not be needed.
“The project right now is conceptual,” explained Sue Morris, the school district’s owner’s representative, or project manager. “The actual cost of construction we feel could be considerably less (than projected).”
She said the voter authorization “doesn’t mean the district has to issue the full $1.2 million.”
School officials emphasized the unique grant opportunities lined up for the project.
“Because our needs are so extreme,” White said, state local matching-fund requirements were reduced from 60 percent to 20 percent. And with additional funding sources, the school now needs to come up with less than 10 percent of the entire estimated project cost.
Lots of work needed
The list of shortcomings at the school are daunting, and were pointed out in presentations by students.
Both the school building and the gym are structurally sound for their age, but they are operating with aging systems and many areas do not meet code. The water supply is not adequate to support a fire sprinkler system.
The plumbing lines do not meet code.
Also, the roof is due for replacement. The new plans will upgrade the water supply lines with an additional source/hydrant on Snowden. The plumbing lines will be replaced. Additional power will be brought to the buildings and the lines inside will be replaced or upgraded. A new roof with insulation is planned.
The students highlighted the technological upgrades for computers and science lab safety.
If San Juan County voters approve the bond measure Nov. 3, work can begin in the spring.
The plan is to find temporary space for the school for the fall semester of 2010, and the school would be ready to be reoccupied that winter.
School officials said they anticipate the need for a lot of local workers and the use of local contractors for many facets of the huge project.