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Superintendent floats ‘master campus’ concept

Archuleta School District 50 Joint Superintendent Mark DeVoti unveiled a conceptual plan for a “master campus” while inviting community and government and community leaders to join the district in making that concept a reality.

“We may not have the funds,” DeVoti said. “What we have are people willing to work together.”

Positioning the concept as economic development (because of the construction jobs created), DeVoti stated that a depressed economy should not be an obstacle in moving the concept forward.

“I believe this is the right time,” he said.

With representatives from the National Renewable Energy Labs and the Governor’s Energy Office attending the meeting, DeVoti said he was encouraged by recent suggestions that the area’s geothermal resources could be much larger and potentially available for large-scale expansion.

Speaking to the possibility that geothermal energy could heat all the buildings on the campus, DeVoti asked the audience, “What if we could be a model, nationally?”

DeVoti suggested that with expanded geothermal resources, not only could district schools be largely run off clean energy (saving the district thousands in energy costs), but that the district could integrate curriculum focused on green energy technologies.

In fact, the conceptual plan handed out to the audience included a geothermal heating plant. However, DeVoti said those plans could be expanded to include geothermally-heated greenhouses and fish ponds that would be used to instruct students in various subjects including agriculture, botany, aquaculture, biology and various other areas of science.

Of course, the logistics of locating all three schools (elementary, middle and high schools) at the same site would also provide savings for the district. The current disparate locations of the schools entail that buses drop students off at one school then drive cross town to drop off other students.

“We’d be saving at least $100,000 in transportation costs,” DeVoti said.

Likewise, safety issues would be mitigated due to a one-stop location for the schools. Currently, middle school students need to cross U.S. 160 in order to participate in outdoor physical education activities (the school’s playing fields located at Town Park), while some students who walk to school also have to cross the highway during morning rush hour. A single location on the south side of town would eliminate those hazards.

Last December, the district purchased 53 acres adjacent to the high school. While that parcel had originally been assessed at $3.4 million, the district was able to purchase the property for $300,000.

At the time of the purchase, DeVoti made it clear that the land had been bought with the vision of constructing a single campus for all three schools in the district.

Of course, finances figured prominently into the discussion. With the district facing an additional $1 million funding shortfall this year, area schools have grappled with how to maintain services and staff without reducing instructional quality.

When asked how much the concept (at total buildout) would run, DeVoti replied , “We talk about $50 million.”

That price tag did not include offsets from the sale of existing properties, however. With prime downtown property for sale (the current location of the middle school), as well as property owned by the district near the corner of Vista Boulevard and U.S. 160, it is unknown what kind of money the district could make from the sale of those properties.

Having presented his concept, DeVoti asked for volunteers to head up a steering committee to refine the concept, look at possible inroads and position an eventual bond issue that would be needed to help fund the project.

Interestingly, the audience was almost unanimously in support of the concept. Still, DeVoti acknowledged convincing area residents that the concept would benefit the community as a whole would be an uphill battle.

Pagosa Springs Town Council member Don Volger spoke for many in attendance, expressing his enthusiasm for the project and the prospect of bringing various entities and business leaders together in order to make the dream a reality.

“If we decide as a community that we want to get this done,” Volger said, “we will get this done.”

jim@pagosasun.com

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