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Durango School District says it will rebuild Miller on-site

Cost estimate for new building increases by at least $5.5 million
The rebuild of Miller Middle School will occur on its existing site, Durango School District officials announced Thursday during a feedback session with the community held on Zoom. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Rebuilding Miller Middle School will go forward on its current site after feedback from the community showed little appetite for moving it.

The announcement came Thursday night in a third and final Zoom feedback session held by Durango School District 9-R to look at Miller’s future.

One big problem remains: The rebuild will cost about $5.5 million more than anticipated. That means 9-R anticipates reducing expenditure on the building, from $31.5 million to $26 million.

Superintendent Karen Cheser said, “It may not be the perfect building we wanted, but we have creative people and we’ll have the best building that we can get.”

During the feedback session, Durango resident John Simpson asked why spending more would be problematic because the district initially asked for $90 million in bonds but by paying a slightly higher interest rate, called paying a premium, was able to raise $114 million in the bond issuance.

“We got an extra $24 million, and now we’re told we have to build a ‘Miller-lite,’” he said.

Simpson said the district needs to explain where all the money that will finance projects from the $114 million bond will be going.

9-R’s Chief Financial Officer Samantha Gallagher said the problem was that in long-range planning assessments to prepare for the bond issuance, the district identified $130 million in needs.

Gallagher said 9-R officials expect to have a breakdown detailing where the bond money will go on its website sometime next week.

While the updated cost estimate to rebuild Miller on its current site has added at least $5.5 million to the price tag, Durangoans still prefer the current location rather than the other proposed sites, adjacent to Riverview Elementary School or in Three Springs.

Durango resident Ericka Curlee said she knew additional costs would be incurred to build on-site, and she wanted to reiterate she was “OK with that.”

Voters approved a bond issuance in November 2020 that brought in $114 million to rebuild Miller, build a new Career Technical Education Center, pay for safety and security improvements at all schools, and clear a backlog of maintenance and repair needs at all Durango School District 9-R schools.

Since bond approval, Gallagher said, an already-identified need to replace heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems at all schools has increased in priority and cost given the COVID-19 pandemic.

About $40 million of the bond issuance was devoted to the Miller project, and of that amount $31.5 million was directed for the actual construction of the building. The rest of the money goes to furniture, technology and non-building costs, such as utility infrastructure.

The new cost estimate, adding at least $5.5 million to the Miller on-site rebuild, means the money available for a new school building on the current site would be only $26 million.

The new cost estimate provided to 9-R by Jacob, the management company hired to guide administration of the bond projects, found:

  • An increase in abatement costs of at least $2.5 million.
  • An increase of up to $2 million attributable to added construction costs created by operating on a constrained site and the need to rebuild the athletic field after the rebuild.
  • An increase of $1 million to meet new stormwater retention requirements.

Additionally, building on-site will require a phased approach to construction, adding to the length of the project and adding an as-of-yet undetermined cost.

9-R officials are still looking at whether the on-site rebuild of Miller can occur with students remaining in the old school or whether they will have to be moved off campus, most likely to modulars.

Under federal law, the district must spend 85% of the bond money in the first three years after issuance.

Because Miller is 35% of the total bond, the rebuild of Miller must come in the next four years.

Additionally, design for the rebuild must get underway by the end of August to meet 9-R’s goal to open a new Miller for the 2024-25 school year.

A survey 9-R conducted seeking feedback about the Miller rebuild from the community showed:

  • 39% of respondents prefer rebuilding on the existing site with the students off-site during construction.
  • 35% prefer rebuilding on the existing site with the students remaining in the current school during construction.
  • 14% prefer rebuilding the school in Three Springs.
  • 12% prefer rebuilding the school on the same 9-R land that currently includes Riverview Elementary School.

The district has explored building a new Miller on the La Plata County Fairgrounds, which La Plata County is looking to eventually move to Durango Mesa.

However, La Plata County officials have informed 9-R that building on the current fairgrounds could not occur in the next four years, which eliminates the fairgrounds alternative.


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