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Our View: Miller site

Questions remain on best school location

The community has spoken its preferences about the construction of a replacement for Miller Middle School, and it appears the school district is listening.

Miller Middle School, built in 1964, is today a dinosaur that cannot be revived. The school district’s long-term planning committee examined the various ways it might be renovated or rebuilt and eventually determined spending the money to mitigate its problems wasn’t sensible. For the long term, building a new school was the wisest decision, for many reasons.

It also seemed rational to build a new school on property already owned by the school district, so construction could go on while students were still housed at Miller. That meant siting it either adjacent to Riverview Elementary School or at Three Springs.

But in an online survey and in feedback sessions held in recent weeks, community members objected to the district’s idea that the new Miller Middle School should be built at a different site. Numerous people pointed out that they voted for the November 2020 bond issue that will fund the new school’s construction based on the understanding that it would be built on site, not somewhere else. To build it elsewhere would violate the public trust, they said.

About 870 people filled out the online survey about Miller. (In itself, that’s a tribute to just how much Durangoans care about the schools and their community as a whole.) Some 39% of the respondents said the school should be rebuilt on site and the classrooms located elsewhere while the construction is underway; 35% said classes should be held onsite while new construction is underway at the existing site. Much smaller percentages favored building the new school at Riverview (12%) or Three Springs (14%).

Parents whose students attend or will attend Miller preferred the school remain in the neighborhood, where it is safely walkable for regular classes and after-school events. Neighbors who live in the Riverview neighborhood argued against a second school of 500 students in the area, which would increase traffic substantially, and bemoaned the potential loss of green space to a new school. Three Springs, others agreed, would mean many students would be bused or parents would have to drive them a significant distance to and from school.

At a feedback session held Thursday night, school officials said they recognize the will of the community is that the new Miller should be built on its current site. The school board is being provided the survey and feedback results and additional materials from the bonding authority and others involved in planning. The board will likely vote on the issue at its next regular meeting, on Aug. 24. Time is of the essence because of constraints related to spending bond monies; the rebuild of Miller has to occur within four years of the bond’s issuance.

The idea of moving the school elsewhere wasn’t an affirmative idea so much as an issue of logistics. Under current projections, design is expected to take 18 months; construction on the new Miller would begin in early spring 2023 and the school would open in the fall of 2024. Building the school on a secondary site while classes continued at Miller made sense.

Building the new Miller on the current site likely means putting students in portable classrooms at another site – expensive and problematic in many ways, but feasible. (Trying to hold classes in part of the building while demolishing and constructing the new building makes no sense at all and would surely put students at unnecessary risk in many ways.)

Lots of questions about the process of building a new Miller Middle School remain to be answered. But it seems the school district is trying to gauge and be responsive to the wishes of the community. It will be up to the school board to make a final decision.

Students, teachers and staff have made it through COVID-19 so far in better shape than many predicted; we’re certain they’ll manage fine through the rebuild of Miller – wherever it ends up – as well.