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Durango residents voice opposition to relocating Miller Middle School

9-R looking at Riverview and Three Springs as possible locations
The construction of a new Miller Middle School will be financed by bonds passed by Durango voters in November. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Residents gave a cool reception Tuesday to a proposal by Durango School District 9-R to rebuild Miller Middle School at a new location.

The school district announced last month that the bottom-to-top rebuild of Miller might not occur at the current school site. Instead, the school district is examining building the new school near Riverview Elementary School or in Three Springs, as well as the original plan to rebuild on the school’s current site at 2608 Junction St.

Community feedback sessions have been scheduled on Zoom to get parents’ feedback about their preference for siting a new Miller Middle School.

The first sessions were held from 8 to 9 a.m. Tuesday and from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. The second day of sessions is scheduled from 8 to 9 a.m. Aug. 5 and from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Aug. 5.

9-R Superintendent Karen Cheser said an evaluation of rebuilding at the current school site showed a lack of room to locate modular buildings on the campus while the current school is razed and construction occurs on a new building.

If the rebuild occurs on the current site, a location to house modular buildings to serve as a school for Miller students for about two to three years would have to be found.

“With modulars, you’re talking about 450-plus students in a trailer situation somewhere off-site for two or three years while we rebuilt the school. It’s not ideal.” Cheser said.

Several problems exist with modulars:

  • A location to place them would have to be found.
  • Use of modulars would require transferring from class to class by walking outside, a problem during winter.
  • Bathroom facilities would have to be built, requiring a septic system.
  • Safety and security is compromised in modular buildings.
  • Modulars would not meet needs for larger structures, such as gyms and cafeterias.

“In my last district, we had to do this, we were not able to rebuild a school on-site because of the cost and the safety issues,” Cheser said. “And so we had to move 400 students to modulars, or trailers, into a field. And it really was not an ideal situation. It was very difficult to teach in that situation, it’s very difficult for students.”

Durango School District 9-R originally envisioned rebuilding Miller Middle School on its current site. Now, however the district is looking at possibly rebuilding the school adjacent to Riverview Elementary School or in Three Springs. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

A survey went out Monday to Miller parents to see which of the three location options for a new school they prefer. 9-R is asking for the surveys to be returned by Aug. 2.

During the community feedback forum on Tuesday evening, many Riverview-area parents said adding another school there would create traffic congestion, something the area already is experiencing.

Attendees agreed moving Miller to Three Springs makes no sense.

Drew Semel said building at Three Springs “robs the north end of something that’s vital” – to have a school that’s walkable and bikeable.

Nora Foutz said building at either Riverview or Three Springs creates the need for more buses and car trips creating more congestion and emissions, “everything we don’t want in Durango.”

Ericka Curlee, a resident of the Riverview area, said rebuilding at Miller was the best option, and creative thinking should create solutions to allow students to stay in the existing school, without the need for modulars, during the on-site rebuild.

Many attendees, including former Durango mayor Sweetie Marbury, said rebuilding on-site was touted to voters in the campaign that passed the bonds, and it would be important to adhere to that in keeping trust with the electorate.

“I didn’t vote for a new school in Three Springs. I didn’t vote for a new school in Riverview. I voted for a new school at Miller,” she said.

At the close of the meeting, Cheser said 9-R is continuing to explore options, including looking into the use of the WorldPay building as a temporary school site during the Miller rebuild and continuing to explore the possibility of locating a school at the La Plata County Fairgrounds, where the property is owned by La Plata County and not by 9-R.

“This is a long-term plan, and we have to look at what’s best for the long term,” she said.

In an interview before the community forum, Cheser said 9-R is looking to make a final decision for the new Miller site at the school board meeting in late August to keep the timeline on track to begin construction of a new building by the beginning of the 2022-23 school year.

Cheser said the survey of parents will help the school board make the best decision. For instance, she said if parents tell her they are not too concerned about their children going to school in modulars for two to three years, school board members might decide to continue with the original plan – rebuilding Miller on-site.

All the options, Cheser said, have pros and cons.

For example, the Three Springs site is far from the current Miller Middle School, and that might require readjusting school boundaries to make more geographic sense with the new school’s location in relation to Escalante Middle School.

All the sites, including the Miller site, would require some degree of infrastructure work for roads, sidewalks and utilities. The big infrastructure need if the school is rebuilt on the current Miller site will be for a stormwater pond and possibly a bigger water main.

The Riverview site would be located separate from the elementary school, but some people might object to having a middle school located so close to an elementary school. Also, the baseball fields would be lost to the new school.

On the other hand, Cheser said some parents might like the proximity of the two schools, which would make it easier to drop off their children.

Also the two schools located next to each other might offer opportunities for cross-school collaborations.

Wherever the new school goes, Cheser estimated it will cost between $40 million and $45 million.

A site study conducted by Jacobs, the program management firm hired by 9-R to administer all the building projects financed by $114 million in bonds 9-R recently issued, rates locating the new Miller at the Riverview site as the best option.

Cheser said the current timeline would see the new Miller building open for the 2024-25 school year.

parmijo@durangoherald.com

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