What a year 1925 was. The Scopes Monkey Trial ended with a Tennessee high school science teacher found guilty of teaching evolution. F. Scott Fitzgerald published the Great Gatsby. Calvin Coolidge continued his presidency after winning the 1924 election and, the building that would eventually house Grand River Academy was built. It’s still in use.
Grand River Academy is far from the only school in Mesa County School District 51 that could qualify for social security benefits. Gateway High School was originally built in 1942. Fruita Middle School dates back to 1936. Appleton Elementary School came along two years later.
All those schools have had improvements and additions that came later, but the average age for a school in D51 is 42 years old, according to district data, and the average building age is about 30.
Eric Nilsen, D51 Maintenance Director, said overall the district’s 43 schools fall around the average age compared to other districts in the state, but there is a lot of maintenance work that needs to be done on aging schools, especially in the next few years.
Older buildings suffer from a host of issues the maintenance crew has to deal with, including electrical and plumbing issues, asbestos, security deficiencies, accessibility and indoor air quality.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though, Nilsen said. Most of the schools are pretty comfortable and clean for the students.
PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
A lot of the district’s schools are built in campuses with some older buildings and some younger buildings. According to Nilsen, the long-range plan over the next 10 years is to replace the older, more difficult to maintain parts of schools and keep the newer parts.
Nilsen mentioned Tope Elementary School (1940), Nisley Elementary (1958), Fruitvale Elementary (1953), Lincoln Orchard Mesa Elementary (1957) and Orchard Ave. Elementary (1948) as schools this could work for.
“We don’t necessarily need to start fresh,” Nilsen said.
Nilsen’s position as maintenance director means he sees more problems with the old buildings than other people do.
Other schools that need work, according to Nilsen, include Broadway Elementary (1958), East Middle School (1970), West Middle School (1970), Central High School (1960) and Fruita Monument High School (1969).
It’s safe to say there are hundreds of millions of dollars worth of need out there, Nilsen said, and the majority is going to have to come from community support.
It’s like having an old car, Nilsen said, sometimes it costs less over the long run to just get a new one. The maintenance department puts a lot of its effort into a handful of schools.
“I think we’re wanting to be as responsible as we can,” Nilsen said. “We’re not in the historic preservation business.”
BACK TO THE BOND
School Board member Doug Levinson said the big question for funding school construction and improvements is whether to put all the work on one bond or spread the work out among multiple bonds.
The school district is currently pushing a $115 million bond issue on the ballot for November’s election that would fund a reconstruction of Grand Junction High School (1956).
Hopefully, Levinson said, this bond is passed and the district manages the bond in a way that builds trust with the community, which will then help pass future bonds.
Future school reconstruction projects like those needed at Central and Fruita Monument high schools carry lower price tags than at GJHS, Levinson said, so it might be possible to combine projects into bond issues, because at the rate of one project per year, the district is never going to get where it needs to be.
“I think the public will just have to get used to (more bond issues) because the need is there, for sure,” Levinson said.
If this year’s bond doesn’t pass, Levinson said, that opens up a whole host of other questions, because the school is getting closer to becoming unsafe.
“If it’s not a safe facility, what do you do with all those students?” Levinson said.
Levinson said part of the district’s job is to educate the public about why passing bonds for new school buildings is important. He’s confident that will happen.
“If we want to attract people to the valley and have them stay there then part of that is having a vibrant school system, and that starts with buildings that are modernized,” Levinson said.