Lewis-Palmer to host community open house to discuss facilities plan

Lewis-Palmer School District 38 will host a community open house regarding long-range planning on Feb. 13, at Bear Creek Elementary School, 1330 Creekside Drive in Monument. Image via Google Maps.

MONUMENT - After two years of studying growth projections with demographers, getting community feedback and assessing options, Lewis-Palmer School District 38 will propose two financing increases on the Nov. 6 ballot, the board of education decided Monday night.

Leaders of the 6,700-student district in Monument want to build a 650-seat elementary school west of Bear Creek Elementary in the Jackson Creek neighborhood and convert Bear Creek back to a middle school for 925 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students.

They also seek to improve safety, security and student wellness programs, including at Monument Academy, the district's only charter school.

Combined, the measures would cost homeowners an estimated $13 a month, based on the area's average assessed home value of $400,000, said D-38 spokeswoman Julie Stephen.

The need is now, board members said in approving the bond motion on a 4-1 vote.

"There's quantifiable data and unquantifiable community engagement and desire to provide for our kids in the future, not just for a year or two," said Theresa Phillips.

She was sworn in as a board member June 4 to replace Sarah Sampayo in District 2. Sampayo resigned in April, citing "personal attacks" as one of several reasons for her departure.

"We need to get a new school on board ASAP," said board President Matthew Clawson.

Although the board won't finalize the ballot language until August, the district will request a bond issue not to exceed $33 million for the construction projects and a $1 million mill levy override, or property tax increase, to pay for more personnel, training and equipment for safety and wellness programs at all D-38 schools. The property tax increase would sunset in seven years.

The bond is projected to cost homeowners about $8 a month, and the property tax increase $5 a month, Stephen said.

The new elementary school would cost an estimated $29.5 million. Preliminary design work is done, Stephen said, and the construction would be fast-tracked so the school would open in the fall of 2019.

Renovating Bear Creek Elementary back to Creekside Middle School - which changed to an elementary school during the recession to save district money - would cost about $1 million.

The remaining $2.5 million of bond revenue would be spent on safety and security improvements, working from detailed lists each school compiled.

With a second middle school, the existing Lewis-Palmer Middle School would add sixth-grade students. It couldn't fit all the district's sixth-graders when Creekside became an elementary school.

Top desires from a recent community survey were "Having good schools in the district keeps our local economy strong," "Our schools listen to parents and ordinary voters and take their opinions seriously" and "Charter schools should always be included in any school building or repair."

Addressing the board, parent Kim Shatteen said she was disappointed when D-38 voters rejected a 2013 mill levy override and now is even more dismayed that the district is looking at changing music and theater rooms into classrooms because it doesn't have enough space.

"Why can we not get an MLO passed? Other districts are doing it, and they have the same issues we have," Shatteen said.

She encouraged the board to spell out for voters how the money will be spent and get them to see how it equates to a few Starbucks coffees or trips to McDonald's a month, for example.

Recognizing that the district soon will need a second new elementary school as housing is built in the Tri-Lakes area, board members debated whether to ask for funding for two new schools now.

They decided to seek voter support of one new school.

Board member Chris Taylor said it could take three or four years to fill two new schools. But one new elementary school would be occupied fairly quickly.

"The question becomes timing," he said.

"We have to show the district and the community that we're being fiscally responsible," agreed board member Mark Pfoff.

If voters approve the bond measure, enrollment boundaries would change, Taylor said.

"Redistricting may be unpleasant. Most people don't want it, and not everyone will be happy," he said.

Board member Tiffiney Upchurch cast the sole opposing vote, saying afterward she had concerns about placing two financing proposals on the ballot and didn't feel the mill levy override had been discussed enough.

Superintendent Karen Brofft, who warned board members a few months ago that a "tsunami of growth" might be coming in D-38, said addressing the issue is "an ongoing process."

"We've got to figure out how to manage our growth. This will be our life for a while - constantly trying to stay ahead," she said.

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