Working group recommends new building for Boulder's New Vista High School

Amy Bounds, Daily Camera, Boulder, Colo.
·5 min read

Feb. 23—A working group is unanimously recommending building a new school for New Vista High on its current site across from the University of Colorado Boulder.

The group, which includes teachers, students and community members, made the recommendation after determining that renovating the existing, aging building would cost almost as much as building new — and still wouldn't fully address the small, non-traditional high school's needs.

"Having a building that meets student needs is super, super important," said New Vista senior and working group member Sima Zavorotny. "The building doesn't really work for the program. The classrooms feel incredibly closed off. They aren't large enough to circle up when we need to. I would really like to see that change for future students."

The Boulder Valley school board plans to discuss the recommendation at a Tuesday worksession. The meeting starts at 5 p.m. and will be streamed live at bvsd.org/bv22 or on Comcast channel 22.

Infrastructure improvements to New Vista, located at 700 20th St., were included in Boulder Valley's $576.5 million capital construction bond issue approved by voters in 2014. But those improvements were put on hold a few years ago so Boulder Valley leaders could explore rebuilding it instead.

The almost $40 million cost for a new high school, however, proved too high, and no viable solutions were found.

With the bond program projects wrapping up, the school board agreed in November to form a working group to recommend the best option for New Vista.

The school's 68-year-old building isn't designed for high school students, doesn't have needed flexible education spaces or adequate performance space, and has multiple structural issues, district officials said. Formerly Baseline Middle School, the building was occupied by New Vista in 2004.

The working group looked at four options: Go forward with the originally proposed work while adding work to address structural and drainage issues, extensively renovate the existing building, build a new school on the current site, or build a new school on a new, unidentified site.

The school's structural issues include water infiltration around the building perimeter causing cracking, floor sagging and brick separation. Inside, single pane, clear glazed windows make it difficult to keep the building at a comfortable temperature. There's also poor lighting and accessibility issues.

The school district has about $12 million from the bond issue to spend on New Vista. To complete the original bond projects and address structural issues, officials estimate it would cost up to $8 million more, for a total of $20 million. Those improvements would keep the building operational for another 15 to 20 years, district officials said.

A substantial renovation is estimated at $30 million to $36 million — or $18 million to $24 million when the $12 million that's available is subtracted — and would extend the life of the building to 25 to 35 years.

The price tag for new building, estimated to last 70 years, is $35 million to $42 million, or $23 million to $30 million minus the $12 million.

Assistant Superintendent of Operations Rob Price said the district would spend 85% of the cost of a new building to renovate the existing one, while the industry standard for building replacement is 75% of the renovation cost.

"It has just lived its useful life," Price said. "Even if we did remodel, we still wouldn't meet the educational needs of New Vista."

Along with evaluating structural issues, the working group developed a list of features New Vista needs for its educational program. Those include flexible spaces, large and small performance spaces, STEM and project-based learning spaces, and outdoor learning spaces.

"Looking at the amount of money to renovate, to try to squeeze our innovative program into this building just didn't add up," New Vista Principal Kirk Quitter said.

He said the group decided against trying to build the school in a new location, giving the district the option to sell the current campus, because the location is a key part of the school's success.

Through the school's community experience program, students volunteer weekly, including at the university and nearby federal labs. Many students, who live across Boulder County, also use RTD buses to get to school.

"Place has always been a really important part of what we do," Quitter said. "Our location allows our kids to customize their education and put together a program specific to them, to explore who they are."

Another advantage of staying on the current campus is there's space to build a new school while allowing students to stay in the current building. Renovating would require them to attend class in portable classrooms.

If the school board agrees to move forward with a new building, the next step is to figure out how to pay for it.

The three main financing options are "pay-as-you-go" using the district's operating money, asking voters to approve a bond issue tax increase or using certificates of participation. Issuing certificates of participation doesn't require voter approval, and the debt payments would be made over 10 to 20 years with operating dollars from the general fund — similar to a mortgage on a house.

Price said he's proposing the district move forward with hiring a company to design a new building, a process that's expected to take about a year.

"That gives us additional time to figure out the financing piece of this," he said.