School board unlikely to ask voters to build new high school in GJ

School District 51 Board of Education members will most likely not pursue voter approval to build a new high school in 2017, cutting nearly $90 million from a potential ballot question.

While board members have discussed seeking a bond measure and mill levy override for more than a year, that conversation didn’t include replacing Grand Junction High School until a work session earlier this month.

Board President John Williams said at the March 7 meeting that he was concerned district facilities would reach a “tipping point” where urgent needs would be overwhelming.

But asking for too much money could topple a tax-averse community’s tolerance for more school funding.

Citing a meeting with the school district’s lobbyist, Amy Attwood, and Williams, board Vice President Tom Parrish said Monday asking voters to approve $200 million was too risky.

“We basically got to the point where we were looking at projects, and based on Amy Attwood’s advice, any amount close to $200 million or beyond in the bond was not going to be successful based on results from earlier elections in the state,” Parrish said.

Nearly two-thirds of Colorado districts who asked voters for more funding in November succeeded, but the failures — like Jefferson County School District, whose voters denied a $568 million tax package — are causing District 51 board members to proceed with caution.

“That doesn’t mean we’ve lost interest in the Grand Junction project, it’s still important and necessary, but it might mean we have to move forward in another year with that project,” Parrish said.

Board member Greg Mikolai said it was clear that the building with the most “dire need” of replacement is Orchard Mesa Middle School.

“Maybe the situation at Grand Junction High School is not so dire, so maybe let’s try not to take on too much, let’s try to take on what we can handle,” he said.

Parrish said there were still many questions about how to replace a school like Grand Junction High, which serves nearly 1,600 students. Where would the new school go? What would happen if Grand Junction High students had to attend a different school while theirs was constructed?

“This might have bought us the luxury of time to really engage in these conversations,” Parrish said.

Parrish, Mikolai and board member Paul Pitton also discussed candidates for superintendent in an executive session on Monday. Williams and board member Doug Levinson were not at the meeting.

Semi-finalists for the position will be interviewed in an open meeting beginning at 7:30 a.m. Thursday.


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