Fruita school squeeze

Third and fifth-graders play during recess at Rim Rock Elementary School in Fruita on Tuesday, October 30, 2018. Fruita schools have reached full capacity and District 51 and Fruita City Council met Tuesday to discuss long-term solutions.

A new elementary school could be on the horizon for Fruita.

School District 51 and city leaders wrestled with how to address the area's already crowded schools and growing population at a joint meeting Tuesday night.

At a pace of 120 new homes built every year, Fruita schools will see 420 new elementary students, 216 new middle-school students and 264 new high-school students by 2030, District 51 Chief Operations Officer Phil Onofrio told board members and councilors Tuesday.

A new elementary school or combined elementary and middle school could be built with money left over from the 2017 bond measure, Onofrio said, which is nearly $40 million through grants, selling premium bonds and cost savings.

While some schools are not yet at capacity, schools like Rimrock Elementary and Fruita Monument High School are already over capacity and will continue to grow.

One option is to add more classrooms onto Fruita Monument to increase its capacity from 1,557 to 2,000 or 2,500 students, Onofrio said.

Another option is to build a high school in the Appleton neighborhood, between Grand Junction and Fruita Monument.

"People don't move to Fruita for that big-city experience," said Fruita City Councilor Lori Buck. "At the same time, I don't know if they would (financially) support building another school."

Buck also questioned whether voters would support a new high school when Grand Junction High School is in such desperate need of replacement.

"There's a push to have a flagship school in Grand Junction for economic development, and I think it would be a tough sell, building a school in Appleton before you leveled Grand Junction," Buck said.

Board member John Williams said it would be possible to write a bond measure that focused on both — to replace Grand Junction High School as well as build a new high school. One new high school would likely cost $100 million, Onofrio said.

School board members also questioned whether there was any community appetite for approving more school funding in light of an administration reorganization that cost $1 million and soured public sentiment toward the district.

Interim Superintendent Diana Sirko said she and the board are looking at ways to address the reorganization and associated cost increase in order to start to rebuild trust with teachers, staff and community members.

"I think it's undermined the trust that the community has, and we need to have some solid solutions, not just window-dressing," Sirko said. "You can only move as fast as the speed of trust, and we know we need to address our issues."

Board member Doug Levinson said plans to build new schools were "pipe dreams" without addressing the current lack of trust among district employees and the community.

But Levinson also said he would support going for a bond measure.

"We have to go for this, even if there's no chance in hell we're going to pass it," he said. "We need to keep reminding the community that this is an issue."

Fruita City Councilor Dave Karisny said he also wanted to keep other options in mind.

"Would there be enough public interest to go for a bond? I think it would be a tough sell, and I think for it to be a meaningful timeline it would have to happen in the next three to five years," Karisny said. "That would be a heavy lift. I think we need to have some plan B's and C's."

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