District 51 misses out on grant for new facility

Students crowd the hallways in between classes at Orchard Mesa Middle School in a photo from February 2014. School officials learned this week that District 51 was not awarded a $13 million grant application to replace the aging facility. District 51 was one of 48 Colorado school districts that applied for the state’s competitive Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant this year. District 51’s request was ranked 39th out of the 48 requests.

Orchard Mesa Middle School

School District 51 did not win a $13 million state grant to replace Orchard Mesa Middle School, district officials said Friday, a setback that could make it more difficult for the Board of Education to pass a bond measure in November.

District 51 was one of 48 Colorado school districts that applied for the state’s competitive Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant this year. Districts compete for a pool of money that’s funded through state land trust funds, lottery spillover funds, marijuana excise taxes and interest.

Projects are funded based on need, said Jim Owens, director of the office of capital construction at the Colorado Department of Education. A board of nine appointed officials assesses and ranks projects by objective criteria such as health, safety, security, technology and capacity needs.

There was $70 million in funding available for cash grants this year, which was awarded to 23 school districts with funding requests ranging from $49,000 to $28 million. Owens said it’s likely a similar funding amount will be available next year.

District 51’s request for funds to replace Orchard Mesa Middle School was ranked 39th out of the 48 requests, Owens said.

The BEST board’s funding recommendations, which were finalized Thursday, will go before the state school board for approval later this month.

District 51 School Board President John Williams said the district put forth a great effort to secure the grant funding.

“I was extremely disappointed to the point where I don’t know what it would take to get a BEST grant,” Williams said.

BEST grant funding is conditional on matching funds, and in the case of District 51, funding would have depended on a successful bond election.

Williams said he hopes the loss will not affect the school board’s willingness to pursue a bond measure in November.

“The tax ask to the community would have been less, but the need is still there and it’s real,” Williams said. “We will just work harder.”

Board members have discussed the need to replace Orchard Mesa Middle School for more than a year. The school, which serves approximately 480 students, was built in 1960.

District 51 demographer Shannon Bingham said last year the school needs nearly $20 million in repairs, including a new plumbing system, new roof, new heating and cooling system, updated technology infrastructure and security updates.

The school consists of separate buildings connected by walkways, and 25 exterior doors makes it difficult to secure.

A new middle school would cost $40 million.

Phil Onofrio, the district’s chief operations officer, said he will still recommend that the school board pursue a bond measure to replace Orchard Mesa Middle. Onofrio presented the district’s request to the BEST board this week.

“I have a clean conscious in the sense that I think we did a really good job with what we had,” he said. “It’s just that other folks had worse buildings than us, I guess.”

Western Colorado school districts that were awarded BEST grant funding this week include Roaring Fork School District, which was granted $532,000 for safety and security updates and Delta County School District, which was awarded $10.5 million for a middle school addition and renovation.


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