Voters on Tuesday opened their pocketbooks to Durango School District 9-R.
Ballot Issue 4A, seeking $90 million in new bonds to repair aging schools, add security upgrades and build some new facilities like a career and technical education center, cruised to easy victory.
Early votes showed Ballot Issue 4A pulled out to a wide lead with 72% of voters favoring passage of the measure.
As of 7:30 p.m., voter turnout was listed at 76% of active voters with fewer than a quarter of outstanding ballots left to count.
9-R School Board President Shere Byrd said: “We felt going in that we had done a good job of letting the voters know kind of what we were going to do (with the money). And we brought in the charter schools. I think everybody had something to gain by voting for the bond. So I’m really excited about it.”
Durango School District 9-R Ballot Issue 4A
$90 million bond issue
Because old bonds issued in the early 2000s are expiring, passage of the $90 million bond is not expected to require an increase in the district’s 5.776 mill levy.
If voters had rejected issuance of the new bonds, the owner of a $400,000 home would have seen his or her property tax bill go down by $166 a year by 2024, as old bonds are paid off.
Since the Great Recession of 2018, 9-R, facing pinched budgets, has spent about $1 million annually on maintenance and repairs for its 1 million square feet in buildings. But guidelines from the Colorado Department of Education recommend a district the size of 9-R should be spending about $5 million annually on building maintenance and repairs.
District officials began analyzing needs for its buildings more than two years ago, forming a Long-Range Planning Committee to examine where years of short-changing budgets for building maintenance and updating had left the condition of schools.
A list of recommendations for building repairs, catching up on backlogged maintenance, identifying needed remodels and recommending brand-new buildings was delivered to the 9-R Board of Education in June.
Another key aspect of the bond is to finance safety and security upgrades at schools, a growing concern with the rise of school shootings since the Columbine High School shooting in April 1999.
Security and safety upgrades at many schools would include vestibules with bullet-resistant glass for secure entry and the provision of classroom locks that can be locked from the inside and the outside of each class, so-called Columbine locks.
Recommendations from the Long Range Planning Committee and security upgrades formed the heart of the 4A bond proposal – the list of maintenance backlogs, building improvements, new construction and security enhancements voters approved with passage of the $90 million in new bonds.
The most costly price tag on any single item on the list is a rebuild of Miller Middle School on its current site. The district has determined design and maintenance problems are so severe it would be cheaper to build from new rather than repair the existing structure.
Bonds would also pay for a new $10 million career and technical education center, most likely on the Durango High School campus, where students interested in plumbing, electrical work, auto mechanics, culinary arts, woodworking and other trades that don’t require a college degree would have specialty labs and the proper up-to-date equipment to learn their professions.
Also, Durango’s charter schools, Animas High School, Mountain Middle School and The Juniper School, each will receive $2.5 million from the bonds.
In the case of AHS, the $2.5 million will aid the school as it seeks to raise the $4.4 million required local match to obtain a $13.7 million state BEST (Building Excellent Schools Today) grant. The money would go to build a new permanent building for AHS on the campus of Fort Lewis College.