The School District 51 Board of Education, on Tuesday night, approved a measure to finalize ballot language for a bond measure to build a new Grand Junction High School.
Now, the measure will be placed on the November ballot where voters will decide whether or not to collectively pay $115 million to replace the 65-year-old high school, refurbish the neighboring auxiliary gym and art building on campus.
“I’m in favor of giving those kids and staff as much as we possibly can for the new building,” board member Paul Pitton said at the meeting.
The building comes in at a $144.5 million price tag. But $29.5 million in grant money and leftover funds from the 2017 bond whittles that down to the $115 million. That comes out to a monthly tax of under $5 for a household of $300,000.
Board president Tom Parrish sounded pleased with both figures, since public polling found most supported numbers in those ballparks.
Retaining and refurbishing the gym building carries an extra $1.5 million but the board is optimistic that keeping it will be a huge advantage to the community.
Board member Trish Mahre said that when not in use by the school, it could be utilized by middle school sports, community athletics and theater groups. It will also need its own utility system, since it currently shares the system for the main building.
“It can’t be used during the school day, though,” board member Doug Levinson said. “We’re tight enough on parking as it is.”
The board also wants to keep the arts building that is near the athletic fields on campus. They want to rework it into an athletics supply shed.
Parrish said that it would be cost-neutral to the bond, though it would need additions down the road such as garage doors.
“We’d also need to add chain link fences to separate the equipment,” Pitton said.
the price is right
This will be the third time since 2017 that a D51 board is presenting a bond measure to the public. While the 2017 bond passed, a 2019 bond that asked for $179.5 million failed. That bond included work to all four D51 high schools.
Some in the community felt that the asking price — which was for a new GJHS building and a slew of other projects — was too high, among other concerns.
Because of that, price was a point of contention during the months-long process of crafting the ballot language and deciding what would and wouldn’t be included.
The board explored the possibility of retaining the current gym building to keep the price down. An analysis of the aging gym with cracking walls found that it wasn’t worth saving.
To ensure that the cost would be as low as possible, the board and district worked closely with community advisers, which includes former Colorado Mesa University president and GJHS alum Tim Foster, 21st Judicial District Attorney Dan Rubinstein and Bonsai design co-founder Sarah Shrader.
“I think this is the sweet spot that’s the best way for us to rebuild Grand Junction High School and be fiscally responsible,” Shrader said. “And credit to the school board for doing their due diligence on this.”
Shrader said that work has been underway on the “yes” campaign, and that they’re beginning to craft literature for the public.
The current GJHS building was built in 1956. Now, the building suffers from aesthetic and structural issues. In July, rain caused the ceiling in a second floor classroom to break, which then exposed asbestos.
Shrader was one of a few community advisory council members in attendance, as were ten GJHS teachers, staff and principal Meghan Roenicke to witness the occasion.
When Mahre proposed the motion to adopt the language and Pitton seconded, followed by five straight “yes” responses, it offered some clarity to those stakeholders.
“It’s nice that we have a direction now but it’s all for naught if the voters don’t approve it,” GJHS principal Meghan Roenicke said. “Our kids are amazing and do amazing things. They win academic championships and we have athletes competing for state championships. They do all of this despite of their building. They deserve this.”
“Our community deserves to have a beautiful building in the middle of our town,” she said. “And our students deserve to be in a 21st century building that will prepare them to enter a 21st century workforce.”