DougCo schools face crisis without a bond

Suzie Glassman
Construction hat and school booksPhoto byMatt Benoit/Shutterstock

By: Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver

(Castle Rock, CO) A generation of Douglas County school kids could graduate without ever setting foot in a new school if taxpayers continue to vote against passing a bond.

That's because the district last built a neighborhood school in 2010, and, with the necessary timeline required to build a new school, it would be 2027 or later before students in high-growth areas could attend schools close to home.

Members of DougCo's mill bond exploratory committee (MBEC) recently told the school board that critical capacity issues, ever-increasing maintenance costs, and a lack of updated facilities are becoming a crisis that goes against DougCo's mission to be a destination district.

They recommended the board vote to approve putting a $450 million bond on the 2023 election ballot, even though taxpayers are likely to face property tax increases based on skyrocketing home valuations in the coming year, and polling shows the ask will be difficult.

"I can't believe that a kid in Crystal Valley Ranch will spend her entire school career at 150% capacity, taking classes in a mobile. That's not the promise we made," said Brad Geiger, a long-time member of MBEC and the long-range planning committee.

"This might be our only chance in this half-decade to get a bond passed."

Sandra Brownrigg, president of MBEC, told the board, "Some people may vote against a bond to protest schools merging or closing elsewhere, but those schools will still merge if a bond doesn't pass.

"Schools will still close. Children will take long bus rides, and charters may take up some of the demand, but parents prefer neighborhood schools (referring to data that 70% of the district's students attend these schools)."

Brownrigg said a bond is the only feasible way to build these schools. She estimated construction costs for three new schools (one in Crystal Valley Ranch, Sterling Ranch, and The Canyons) and two middle school expansions would top $220 million, which the district doesn't have.

Desperate maintenance needs

Annual maintenance costs on the district's 111 buildings (89 schools) totaled more than $364 million in 2022 and are expected to reach $443 million this year.

The committee warned that inflation, supply chain issues, and skyrocketing labor costs would continue to increase that number.

The committee also told the board that while money from the 2018 bond addressed the direst needs in the district's oldest buildings, there's still much more work that's needed.

The older a building gets without addressing basic upkeep, the more possible it becomes that a quick fix that could have solved a problem won't be enough.

"Good schools stabilize neighborhoods and property values. We need to keep our schools safe and our facilities modern," said Brownrigg.

"We can't wait another year."

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I tell the stories of Douglas County school district administrators, staff, teachers, parents, children, and community members who call this county their home. I aim to inform the public on issues big or small related to the school district that matter to those with a vested interest.

Denver, CO

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