It’s back to the drawing board for leaders of Calhan School District and Lewis-Palmer School District 38 after bond requests to address growth, program and capital needs were rejected by voters in November.
Calhan School District had requested $15.8 million for school safety and security upgrades, expansion of the Career, Technical and Innovation Center, addition of a performing arts space, improvements to athletic facilities, and other repairs and renovations.
The same ballot question asked for approval to increase the mill levy in any year and in an amount necessary to repay bond debt and increase the district’s debt limit.
More than 63 percent of the votes cast went against the ballot issue.
That was a bit of a surprise to Superintendent David Slothower, since the district based the measure on feedback from the community.
“We completed a rather comprehensive and pretty extensive community survey,” Slothower said. “We asked, ‘What are the programs that you’d like us to be able to provide for the students of Calhan?’ and they were pretty forthcoming.”
Expansion of career and technical education programs and an arts performance space were frequently heard requests, as was interest in improving the district’s outdated athletic facility.
“We worked with a design firm to come up with a design that we thought addressed all those issues,” Slothower said.
“We still need the facility to support the programs that the community has asked us to provide, regardless of what happened last November,” he said. “So the onus falls upon leadership to find a way to get it. And the way to do that is to first of all listen to the voters.”
Slothower said he’s asking people what it was about the plan that did not fit their vision.
“And then we’ll look at all our options,” he said, including grant funding opportunities.
The district also is re-examining the location of the additional structures it wanted to build and considering options that could reduce costs.
“The salient issue here is, we need the facility,” Slothower said.
As in Calhan, officials in Lewis-Palmer School District 38 are pondering the negative results of a bond issue that would have financed a new elementary school.
Almost 55 percent of the district’s voters rejected Ballot Issue 4A, which would have authorized a $29 million bond issue to build a new elementary school west of Bear Creek Elementary School.
The district’s plan was to convert Bear Creek to a middle school in order to relieve overcrowding at the elementary and middle school levels.
It was the second time in two years that voters turned down a bond issue for the new elementary school, although the 2019 measure garnered more positive votes (45 percent) than the 2018 measure did (33 percent).
“Just because 4A did not pass does not mean the need diminished,” Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Somers wrote in a message posted on the district’s website. “We still have a capacity issue. The recent historical pattern of anti-education tax sentiment in our community is also a real issue that we have to better understand and address.”
Somers and several board members hosted a town hall after the election.
“We had upwards of 80 people show up,” said Julie Stephen, D38 spokesperson. “We will be hosting more of those over the next few months, asking the community how they would like us to handle capacity issues. We want to know what the community thinks and what kinds of ideas they have. … We’re on the front end of figuring out what’s next.”
She said the school board and superintendent met for a retreat just before the district’s winter break began, with fallout from the bond issue on the agenda.
“Everybody keeps asking if it will be on the ballot again,” she said. “At this point, we don’t really know.”
Pueblo Community College and CSU-Pueblo are extending their reach as they look to the future.
CSU-Pueblo’s Vision 2028 aims to make the school “the people’s university of the Southwest United States.”
Among the values expressed in the plan are to create unique educational opportunities, foster collaboration, cultivate innovation and support inclusion, access and affordability.
CSU-Pueblo took a giant step in advancing its vision by opening a satellite site in August at Watertower Place, an innovative project located in the former Nuckolls Packing Co. plant at 303 S. Santa Fe Ave.
Watertower Place is being redeveloped as an urban village and community space. Plans are to house coworking and event spaces, residences, and enterprises in the hospitality, real estate, health and wellness, and manufacturing industries, as well as art studios and makerspaces. Plans call for urban gardens and rooftop beehives.
CSU-Pueblo’s leaders said they realized a downtown presence was crucial for the university. They saw Watertower Place as a hub for continuing education and an opportunity for students and faculty to participate in economic and social innovation by working with the team and businesses that are developing the project.
Ryan McWilliams, Watertower Place’s owner, is a CSU-Pueblo alumnus and a member of the CSU-Pueblo President’s Citizen’s Advisory Board.
“What we’re interested in at Watertower Place, along with Ryan, is working through the process,” said CSU-Pueblo President Timothy Mottet at the opening of the university’s office there.
“Becoming a people’s university will be a process, and it’s one that’s going to involve the needs of our community,” Mottet said. “I think we’re parallel running with Watertower Place as a concept of evolution: getting people comfortable with the process approach vs. what does the end look like.”
Donna Souder Hodge, CSU-Pueblo’s executive director of organizational development, said the project will put students to work “in meaningful ways. We know that our use of this space is going to change and grow. We are agile; we are resilient; and that’s the story of Watertower Place. We’re excited to be a part of it and looking forward to all the things that this collaboration can bring.”
Pueblo Community College also has a connection with Watertower Place through the Southern Colorado Innovation Link.
The college is administering a $500,000 federal grant and partnering with CSU-Pueblo, the Southern Colorado Small Business Development Center and the private sector to create SCIL, an innovation center with makerspaces and places for workshops and meetings at Watertower Place that will support entrepreneurs and startup businesses.
Through partnerships with St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center and Centura Health (announced in February), PCC is expanding opportunities for students who want to pursue careers in health care.
The school’s new Teaching and Learning Center for health care careers will be housed in the medical center’s east tower, where PPC’s simulation lab and surgical technology program are already located.
Over the course of this year, the rest of the mostly unused, 450,000-square-foot tower will be renovated to expand the simulation lab and create new anatomy and science labs and a residence hall for students.
The residences will include spaces for full-time students and suites for short-term stays.
The short-term suites will allow students in remote or rural areas to come to the campus for clinical training and simulation labs a few days a month, while they complete the remainder of their training online in their own areas.
“Our vision is that Pueblo Community College positions itself so we can really make a significant dent in the health care shortage,” PCC President Patty Erjavec told the Business Journal in July.
Erjavec estimated that the new facilities, when completed in the next couple of years, will add 225 or more health care professionals to the workforce annually, including nurses, medical and surgical technologists, medical assistants and respiratory, occupational and physical therapist assistants.
PCC’s partnership with Centura is expanding opportunities for students to complete clinical practice requirements not just at St. Mary-Corwin but throughout its system.
Erjavec expects the expansion will help revitalize nearby neighborhoods and contribute to southern Colorado’s economic vitality.
“We’re really looking at this as an economic development project,” she said.