Grand Junction High School could be entering its twilight years as School District 51 leaders move forward with plans to replace the sprawling 63-year-old building.

Board of Education members on Tuesday unanimously voted to apply for a Building Excellent Schools Today grant to fund a new Grand Junction High School, though they did not make a decision about pursuing a bond measure to build the school.

Board President Tom Parrish said it's a first step, but not an obligation to build a new high school.

"If we do get a BEST grant and move forward with rebuilding Grand Junction High School, it would lower that cost," Parrish said. "It could be a substantial savings to the community and a good incentive to realize they could build a high school and save dollars."

Colorado school districts can apply for BEST grants before or after they get funding for capital construction, but using the grants is contingent on securing matching funds.

School board members briefly considered adding funding for a new Grand Junction High School to the 2017 bond measure, but said they feared it would be too high a price tag for voters to approve.

Instead the measure included $5.6 million for priority repairs at the high school, including roofing projects, new fire and electrical systems, replacing carpet and remodeling bathrooms.

Board members said they're hesitant to sink millions of dollars into a building that will likely need to be replaced within 10 years.

A team of Grand Junction High School teachers, staff and administrators visited Alexandria Area High School in Alexandria, Minnesota, in January to see what a modern high school with 1,400 students could look like.

The school includes a large auditorium for community and school events, a soaring central corridor/common space that runs down the center of the building and multi-story learning spaces with classrooms, art studios and labs for science and career and technical education.

Classrooms include flexible seating that can be arranged for individual and group work and glass walls so students can work inside or outside classrooms while still being supervised.

"When you walk into Alexandria High School you get a feeling that is unlike any other high school I've ever walked into in Colorado," Grand Junction teacher Coady Shawcroft said. "There's an energy and ownership that the students have that I don't see here, and I want that and I want our students to feel that."

A potential school design drawn up by Denver-based Cuningham Group would place the new Grand Junction High School on the north end of the school's existing campus, with a south-facing entrance and auditorium and gyms close to the front for public parking and access. A large common area would run from the main entryway to a three-story block of classrooms, labs and studios.

Principal Meghan Roenicke said she wants to have a school that students and the community are proud of, similar to what she saw in Alexandria.

"We want kids to own a building their grandparents went to (school in), but they don't feel that way," she said. "I feel proud of how hard we work to keep that building going. But when you go and you see how invested an entire community can be in the education of students, it's inspiring and empowering."

Roenicke said students and staff at Grand Junction excel in spite of — not because of — the building where they attend school. The school has closed temporarily due to flooding on several occasions, and Roenicke said some students won't use the bathrooms on campus because old plumbing make them smell so bad.

"It doesn't make you feel valued as a learner. You do your best in spite of all of it but you're not doing your best to bring that community," she said.

Roenicke said she hopes community members will prioritize what's best for kids, whether they agree with past school district decisions or not.

"I hope the community understands we have to start doing what's best by kids, not focusing on any negative history from adults who are no longer with us," she said. "It's really hard to consider that people would not vote for this because they are upset by some other agenda. You would be punishing kids that haven't even been born yet in our valley."

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