In their regularly scheduled Board of Commissioners meeting on January 17 the Bent County Commissioners voted unanimously to enter into an agreement with the McClave School District regarding the future of the County and School properties in McClave. The Commissioners also toured the school on Friday, January 20, to assess its potential as a community center. According to school district spokesperson Teale Hemphill, “Attorneys are working on the agreement, and we hope to include it with our BEST Grant application. We are submitting an application in this round of the BEST Grant program requesting a new PreK-12 school building.”
The grant application deadline is February 6, 2023. The McClave School District will apply for a $47 million BEST Grant in order to build a 70,000 square feet PreK-12th Grade School building that will have two gymnasiums, appropriate number and sizes of classrooms, state of the art technology, library, cafeteria and stage area, and a sizable Ag Education classroom and FFA shop. In addition, the grounds will include new athletic fields and playgrounds.
This agreement between the McClave School District and the Bent County BOCC has been a long time coming. As far back as January of 2022, the school district has been trying to get an MOU agreement with the BOCC that would solve some of the issues the project has related to the site of the new school building and the question as to what to do with the old school building.
At that time in early 2022 the school district and the BOCC communicated in a January 10th meeting where the school district informed the BOCC of their intention to build a new school. Further, they informed the BOCC that the school would be built west of the current building, across the street/highway, in the area of the baseball field, football field and track area. However, there is some land, owned by the school district (2.2 acres) but used by the Bent County East End Road & Bridge crew located just south of the baseball field that will be part of the complex.
Further, the school district proposed that the county and school exchange properties whereby the school would take the additional 1.2 acres located just south of the baseball field that is owned by the county and is also used by the Road & Bridge crew (beyond the property already owned by the school). In exchange for that property, the school would give the current school building to the county and lease, at no charge, the land where the current school building stands. No amounts of valuation for this type of exchange or deal was presented.
Finally, the school informed the BOCC that as part of the requirements of receiving a BEST Grant the oldest part of the school, built approximately 60 years ago, would have to be demolished, and a way to save the newer addition of the current school, built in 2008, would be to give it to the county.
Various ideas were proposed on how the county could use the current school building and property including storing the road & bridge equipment and offices, creating a community center where the county and the school could possibly share expenses, or use the old school building for more housing options.
As would be expected, in that January 2022 meeting, there were concerns expressed from a number of individuals, particularly concerns centered around the cost to the school district taxpayers.
It was pointed out that the school district still owed money on the 2008 addition. Hemphill stated, “The BEST Grant requires that obligation to be paid off, and we have budgeted to do so.”
Others questioned whether there was actually a need for a new school. The committee representing the school district told the BOCC and meeting audience that they had been working with an architectural consulting firm that analyzed the costs of fixing the system issues in the current school vs just building a new school and the costs were nearly identical. The main issues lie in the electrical system and particularly in the sewer and plumbing issues that would take millions to repair.
That reasoning led to another question as to why the county would take over the building as a community center when it has all the issues being described.
Again, the school district responded that the issues are significantly with the oldest part of the building and the BEST Grant funds the demolition for that portion.
After that January 2022 meeting the School District went ahead and applied for the BEST Grant, but was denied as the support from the county and the handful of issues had not been completely ironed out.
One main problem they had in early 2022 was funding their portion of the project. Once they were turned down in May of 2022 the group went to action getting a $5.9 million bond measure onto the November 2022 ballot.
That measure read: “Shall McClave School District RE-2 debt be increased up to $5.9 million with a repayment cost of up to $11 million, and shall District taxes be increased by up to $525,000 annually with the increase in debt to occur only if the school district receives not less than $30 million in BEST Grant Awards, which are not required to be repaid, to finance the costs of the following project as selected by the District’s facility planning committee:
Construction of a new Pre-K through 12th building that is ADA compliant, energy efficient, technologically advanced, with innovative academic environments, which will enhance the learning, health, safety, and security of district students.”
The measure passed the school district voters by a margin of 57.38% to 42.62% (206-153)—hardly a ringing endorsement but one that now allows the school district to show the BEST Grant committee that the McClave School community voted to financially support the project.
The bond measure that passed in November 2022 will result in a new property tax that will increase the mils for folks who own real property within the McClave School District boundary. The bond will only go into effect if a BEST Grant that is not less than $30 million is received, because that is how the ballot language was written. The bond will last until the school receives a BEST Grant and will only go away if the BEST Grant program ceases to exist.
According to Hemphill, “A school district in Colorado can only bond for/incur debt up to a maximum of 20% of their total assessed value. The McClave School District’s assessed value in 2022 was $26,952.540. Twenty percent of that is roughly $5.4 million. The BEST Grant Program has a base requirement for a 50% match by the school district—although that depends on an involved calculation designed to exempt poor school districts whose 20% limit is less than the 50% match requirement. The McClave School district qualifies for this exemption, which means that the $5.4 million is the maximum for which they can bond, the increased cost to taxpayers would be: $111/year for a home whose assessed value is $100,000; $3.72/acre/year for irrigated land; and $0.11/acre/year for dryland and grazing land.”
One other concern that has been expressed by some is the fact that a large percentage of McClave’s student population is out of district and therefore they would not be paying for the school but would be directly benefitting.
Hemphill responds to this argument by saying, “McClave School District gets 15% of its total annual revenue ($562k) from the district’s property taxpayers, and 75% ($2.76 million) comes from the State of Colorado, and the rest comes from other sources, including federal funds. The students who live out of the district bring with them $1.65 million in state funding to the school each year. That is almost three times the amount of revenue that the district taxpayers provide each year. That amount is 45% of the annual revenue.”
Not all the issues have been ironed out as of yet, but generally, the McClave School District has put in many hours working through their plan and they say they will continue to apply each year to the BEST Grant Program until they are accepted. They have the bond measure in place, they have the support of the Bent County BOCC, they have the land to build on, and they have strong support from the school board and generally positive support from the taxpayers.
That’s a lot of positive for this project and they hope it will be enough for the BEST Grant Committee to allow them to move forward. They will receive their answer in May.