Voters approved $90M in bonds, now Durango schools prepare for improvements

Before the school year is out, repairs that do not disrupt classes should began in Durango schools.

The work will be the visible fruits of a successful appeal to voters for issuance of $90 million in bonds to improve school security, to fix old buildings and to build two new ones.

Ballot Issue 4A seeking the bonds was overwhelmingly approved in the Nov. 3 general election with 18,120, or 71.8%, of voters backing the measure and 7,129, or 28.2%, of voters opposed, according to the latest unofficial results posted on the website of the La Plata County Clerk and Recorder’s Office.

“Seventy-two percent of the vote is definitely a mandate, and everyone at 9-R is appreciative of the voters support,” said 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger.

Bonds will go to market for sale to investors toward the end of January, and that is expected to bring in $90 million to upgrade security, to repair an inventory of deferred maintenance needs, to rebuild Miller Middle School and to build a new Career and Technical Education Center.

Snowberger said the most unobtrusive of work will begin before the school year is out – largely maintenance needs, such as repair of asphalt in parking lots, new sidewalks and roof repairs at schools.

Other measures involving critical infrastructure, such as upgrading boilers for heating systems, will have to wait until summer, when they can be turned off.

“By summer, you should see significant work,” Snowberger said.

The last of the capital improvements OK’d by voters that will get underway are the big projects, a $40 million complete rebuild of Miller Middle School on its current location and the $10 million construction of a new Career and Technical Education Center.

The Career and Technical Education Center will include laboratories, workshops and equipment for students interested in studying career arts, such as home-building, electronics, plumbing, culinary arts, carpentry and auto mechanics, among other fields.

The Miller rebuild and building the new Career and Technical Education Center will require design and architectural work. Also, decisions will have to be made about how to handle Miller students during construction. Those types complications will push the two big projects out in time.

After bonds have been sold, 85% of the money brought in must be spent within three years.

Currently, 9-R has issued a request for proposal seeking project management services to provide services to plan, coordinate and supervise major capital improvements approved by the voters for the next four years. The deadline for firms to apply for project management services is 2 p.m. Dec. 9.

The district is also forming a bond oversight committee.

The committee of about 20 volunteers from the community – parents, alumni, 9-R employees and other interested parties – will be sought to serve on the committee, which will serve in a watchdog role to ensure bidding for a project is appropriate, bids are valued properly, jobs are done properly and to make recommendations about management issues, such as sequencing of projects.

Because the state of Colorado has begun increasing its contributions to the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, easing the contributions requirements necessary from 9-R, a bond upgrade for the district could come before issuance of the bonds, said 9-R Chief Financial Officer Samantha Gallagher.

Durango School District 9-R is currently rated Aa3 by Moody’s Investors Service, and the bond rating could be improved to the next level, Aa2, which would provide savings through lowered interest rates, Gallagher said.

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