Helen Hunt Colorado Springs
After waffling last week on the fate of Helen Hunt Elementary, the seven-member Colorado Springs School District 11 board of education voted unanimously Thursday night to close the 114-year-old school at the end of this school year.
Hunt's 400 students will be bused two miles away to John Adams Elementary, which will undergo a fast-paced renovation expected to cost about $8 million. The work will start immediately and be finished in time for next school year.
Hunt will be repurposed as some sort of "community resource."
Despite suggesting nine options last week for what could be done with Hunt, with the top two being turning it into a community center or a site for preschool and kindergarten children, board members asked Superintendent Nicholas Gledich to further research alternative uses for the building and report back to them by May 1.
"Some of the comments we heard when we went out to Helen Hunt was that it looked like we were closing yet another school in a high-poverty area of the city. That's not it - we're re re-energizing another area of our district, " commented board member Nora Brown.
Hunt, where more than 90 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch, indicating they come from low-income families, was passed over for closure 2009, and instead Adams was shuttered in a district restructuring. A charter school had been using the Adams property until the district closed it last May.
Since then, district officials have been talking about relocating Hunt students to Adams because Hunt needs an estimated $14 million worth of repairs, including work to bring it up to American Disabilities Act standards.
At community meetings that have been held since last fall, some parents and nearby residents said the school is a longtime landmark that stabilizes the neighborhood and shouldn't be closed.
Teachers want bigger classrooms, computer labs, air conditioning, better heating, new technology, a new playground, a campus with one school building instead of two and other amenities for their students, they told the board Thursday.
Nancy Warnecke, a third grade teacher at Hunt, said she loves the old building but has to heave "a wooden broom stick deep into the heating unit in my class so it can turn on and kids can take off their mittens and gloves."
Warnecke said she uses three industrial-strength fans in warm weather to cool her classroom to 85 degrees and "shoves steel wool into the ceilings to keep the critters out."
"Our kids deserve the same opportunity as other kids, " she said. "Our kids are not throwaway kids."
The board voted 5-2 to spend up to $8.2 million to have Adams ready by fall for students, instead of choosing a two- or three-year completion schedule for renovations.
Board members Nora Brown and Linda Moser voted in opposition, saying they favored a two-year plan, which would cost at least $1 million more.
Brown said she wanted that option to "be fiscally prudent and show the community we're being responsible for the whole district, by spreading it out."
D-11 officials are considering placing a mill levy override or bond initiative on the November ballot, to address a portion of $500 million worth of capital needs.
Moser said the district has limited resources and isn't sure it's wise to spend such "a big chunk of money" on one project.
Thursday was the second chance for the public to voice their views on the issue directly to the board. No one from the public showed up to a public hearing the board held Jan. 27, so the board scheduled another for this week.
At last week's meeting, board member Jim Mason said he wasn't ready to move forward and questioned whether the proposal to close Hunt and re-open Adams was in line with the district's vision. That led the board to postpone making a decision on the issue.
But Mason said after spending the weekend studying the district's mission statement and goals, he changed his mind.
"I knew what the vision was, but it wasn't being articulated well, " he said. "I'm now convinced it fits with what we said we were going to do."
Further delaying action would have lessened the chances of the improvements to Adams being finished in August.
D-11 already spent $375, 000 to have architectural plans drawn up for refurbishing Adams, saying that had to be done in case the board decided to move forward with the idea.
Gledich also will look into offering Hunt students who want to go to other nearby schools the possibility of providing bus service.
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