LPS ballot measure: 'This is our chance to leave a legacy'

School district seeking nearly $300 million from voters, mainly to address building woes

Posted 10/6/18

Littleton Public Schools officials are asking voters to approve a nearly $300 million bond they say will help them better prepare students for life after school and begin replacing the district's …

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LPS ballot measure: 'This is our chance to leave a legacy'

School district seeking nearly $300 million from voters, mainly to address building woes

Posted

Littleton Public Schools officials are asking voters to approve a nearly $300 million bond they say will help them better prepare students for life after school and begin replacing the district's aging buildings.

The measure, which will appear on the ballot as Bond 4A and is worth $298 million, is the largest LPS has ever asked for, and would increase property taxes in the district by $29 to $49 per $100,000 of actual home value per year. That means a resident with a home worth $500,000 could see an increase of $145 to $245 a year.

In return, district officials say, students would receive a laundry list of benefits: several elementary schools on the southeast side of the district in Centennial would be rebuilt or retooled, a new stadium would be built at Newton Middle School to ease pressure on Littleton Public Schools Stadium, and the district would outfit a career and technical education center where students could learn vocational skills.

“Voters of decades past left a legacy for us,” said Littleton Public Schools Superintendent Brian Ewert. “This is our chance to leave a legacy for future generations.”

Ewert said he sees the bond — which voters will be asked to approve on ballots that will be mailed out in mid-October — as the beginning of a long-term effort to replace the district's buildings, which have an average age of 58 years.

“Many of our buildings are simply at the end of their lifespan,” Ewert said. “Most of them have significant structural problems and issues with access for people with disabilities that area almost impossible to solve.”

Razing and raising

More than half of the bond money would go toward projects to rebuild or revamp several schools.

Among the big projects, at roughly $75 million, would be to build a new, two-story school on the Newton Middle School campus at Arapahoe Road and Colorado Boulevard in Centennial while school is still in session at Newton. The district's current timeline anticipates beginning construction in 2020, with completion in the fall of 2021.

Newton's structural integrity is failing, Ewert said, and disability access issues mean that it can take a student on crutches or in a wheelchair 20 minutes to get from one side of the school to the other.

“We've talked to engineers who've told us that some of those structural issues simply can't be fixed,” Ewert said, citing a sinking foundation and other problems.

Another quarter of the bond money would go toward a systematic retooling of elementary schools on the district's southeastern side.

The time has come to build a new school on the site of the old Ames Elementary School near Dry Creek Road and Colorado Boulevard, one of two schools shuttered in 2008, Ewert said. The other closed school, Whitman Elementary, has since become the district's alternative high school.

Though Ames was closed in part due to paltry enrollment, that corner of the district has seen an influx of new families in recent years, Ewert said. Roughly 500 students in the old Ames “catchment” area are now bussed to Highland, Franklin and Lenski elementary schools.

“We're bussing kids across town, past other schools,” Ewert said. “We're adding to the traffic problems around town. It just doesn't make sense anymore.”

As well as rebuilding Ames, Franklin Elementary near deKoevend Park would get a new building while school was still in session at the old building. Once the new building at Franklin is completed, Highland Elementary — which is less than a mile from Franklin — would be closed and its student body absorbed into Franklin.

District officials currently anticipate the Ames project would be complete by the fall of 2021, with Franklin's rebuild completed by the fall of 2022.

Highland would then absorb some of the programming currently housed at Ames, including preschool programs and possibly TLC Meals on Wheels, which currently uses Ames' kitchen.

Play ball

The plans also call for Newton's athletic fields to become a “junior stadium,” intended to offer an additional place for LPS sports teams to practice and play. Currently, the district has only one lighted stadium, at Littleton High School.

Finding time for all the district's teams to use the facility has proven increasingly difficult, said Clay Abla, the district's athletics director.

“There are a lot of growing demands to use the stadium,” Abla said. “We're hosting more music and band events. Because of league affiliations, sometimes we're trying to work around three different games in the same time period.”

This year's change in school start times also crunches the number of hours the stadium can be used, Abla said, because local ordinance requires the stadium to be dark and quiet by 10:30 p.m.

Maintaining the stadium's turf has also gotten more difficult in the face of higher use, said Terry Davis, the district's director of operations and maintenance.

“It's almost like playing on concrete,” Davis said.

The new stadium would be smaller than the main stadium, with 1,000 seats compared to 3,000. That would make it a great size for some of the smaller-draw sports like lacrosse and soccer, Ewert said.

District officials said they have heard concerns from homeowners near the proposed stadium who are concerned about a declining quality of life due to the noise, traffic and light the stadium could generate.

New technologies will limit light pollution, Ewert said, and parking will be structured to ensure effective ingress and egress. Ewert said he plans to meet with neighboring homeowners to hear their concerns.

Trading up

Another of the big-ticket items that the bond could pay for is a new Career and Technical Innovation Center — essentially a large vocational training and trade school — to be housed at two old Schomp Automotive buildings just south of Littleton High School.

The district is under contract to buy the buildings for $7 million, Ewert said, though Schomp will rent them to Stevenson Automotive for the next two years, with the option for a third. After that, though, the district plans to complete the sale, and has already put up earnest money on the property.

The center could become a real boon to students, said Michell Ansley, the district's director of innovation and relevance.

“We want to expose students to work-based learning,” Ansley said. “Some could leave with certifications and apprenticeships.”

Business leaders have told the district they are hoping to see more students graduate with skills applicable to today's job market, Ewert said.

“The district has been good for a long time at sending kids to college,” Ewert said. “But what we're seeing is kids graduating with $100,000 in debt and moving back into their parents' basement. With career education, a kid can graduate high school with a welding certificate and be making $50,000 pretty much right away.”

Local school districts partner with one another for vocational training, Ewert said, with kids going to Englewood for cosmetology training or Cherry Creek for aviation.

The LPS center could be a regional hub for welding, plumbing, automotive training and other skills, Ewert said.

Crunch time

Ewert has planned a whirlwind tour of area schools and civic groups to stump for the bond ahead of the mail-ballot election, which culminates in the Nov. 6 Election Day.

The stakes are high, Ewert said.

“I don't like to try to scare voters, but if this doesn't pass, we honestly will probably have to look at closing smaller neighborhood elementary schools,” Ewert said. “We just won't be able to sustain a school of 300 students.”

Ewert said he's confident about the bond, saying the community is supportive of its schools. Voters have approved all six of the district's previous requested bonds and mill levies, dating back to 1988. The largest bond, at $85.4 million, was passed in 2002. The most recent bond, for $80 million, was passed in 2013.

“We've got one of the best, if not the best district in the state,” Ewert said. “We're proud to be part of this community.”

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