Vanguard School ranks as one of the best high schools in the state
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The Vanguard School has retained its spot as sixth best in Colorado for 2017, which it also earned in 2016. In 2015, Vanguard ranked second best in the state. Image via Google.

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Two local school districts and two charter schools will benefit from this year's statewide distribution of school construction grants funded in part by taxes on recreational marijuana.

A total of 35 capital construction projects costing $447.3 million received final approval from the Colorado State Board of Education Wednesday. It's the largest amount for the Building Excellent Schools Today, or BEST, program's Capital Construction Assistance Fund, since it began in 2008.

About $85 million of the 2018 awards will be funded through cash grants provided by revenue from the Colorado State Land Board, marijuana excise taxes, the Colorado Lottery and fund interest. Recipients will contribute $74 million in matching funds.

Colorado imposes an excise tax on the first sale or transfer of marijuana from a retail marijuana cultivation facility to a retail marijuana store or a facility that manufactures marijuana products. The tax does not apply to medical marijuana.

Another $190 million is being provided through lease-purchase grants from the state. Financing will be repaid with future assistance fund revenues. Recipients will contribute $98 million in matching money.

A $373,816 roof replacement on the Career Technical Education Facility in Peyton School District 23-JT east of Colorado Springs ranks as the second-highest priority on this year's list of awards.

The building had sat empty for years and was renovated and reopened in 2015 as a voc-tech training shop with Woods Manufacturing, automotive, robotics, business and other skills trades classrooms. But the roof was never replaced.

The district will have to contribute $168,217, with the state picking up $202,599 of the cost.

Elementary schools in Harrison School District 2 will get new security entrances. The grant will cover half of the $878,637 project cost, and the district will pick up the rest.

This is the first BEST grant for Atlas Preparatory School, a charter school in Harrison D-2, said Executive Director Brittney Stroh.

"We have applied for other BEST grants in the past, and while we were selected as an alternate, we unfortunately did not receive funding," she said.

Alternates are selected each year, in case recipients can't come up with the required matching funds.

Atlas Prep will replace the 30-year-old roof on its high school building, likely next May. The $788,111 project will be paid for with $457,104 from the grant and $331,000 from the school.

Stroh said the school's portion will come from a combination of funds saved specifically for capital projects and capital requests from foundations.

"The roof is beyond its usable life," she said. "Often, as a charter school, funds for facilities repair and replacement are limited, so this makes a huge difference in our budget."

Some 92 percent of the 950 middle and high school students at Atlas Prep qualify for free and reduced lunch prices, indicating they live in low-income households.

The Vanguard School, a charter school in Cheyenne Mountain School District 12, will get two new roofs, one on its elementary school and the other on the high school. The BEST grant is for $174,285, and the school will provide $196,534 toward the $370,819 total.

The local projects are small, compared to the largest funded in this cycle, which include $61.2 million for replacing the junior-senior high school and renovating an elementary school in Hayden School District RE-1 near Steamboat Springs, and $50.9 million for renovating and replacing Buena Vista High School and Middle School in Buena Vista School District R-31.

The competitive grants are intended to be used to improve health, safety, security and technology in public schools. The Capital Construction Advisory Board each year reviews applications, prioritizes them and submits recommendations to the State Board of Education for approval.

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