Manitou Springs graduation

The class of 2021 wait outside Manitou Springs High School before

their commencement ceremony.

Of the 41 school construction projects the Colorado State Board of Education approved Wednesday — funded in part by marijuana excise taxes on retail sales — seven have been awarded to Pikes Peak region school districts.

The proposals include a nearly $23.5 million undertaking to renovate the high school and construct a new middle school in Manitou Springs — but the plan will need voter approval of a bond measure on the November ballot to proceed.

The Building Excellent Schools Today, or BEST, grant program run by the state requires districts to supply 65% of construction costs in matching local funds.

Natalie Johnson appointed to fill Manitou Springs City Council vacancy

The state’s decision to reduce money earmarked for schools under what’s known as the budget stabilization factor has resulted in $16 million in lost funding over the past 11 years for Manitou Springs School District 14, said Superintendent Elizabeth Domangue.

“Given the way school funding works in Colorado, we simply do not have the money in our budget to attend to all of our facility issues or provide the required match without our voters approving a bond,” she said.

The amount of a bond initiative will be set at the June 21 Board of Education meeting, Domangue said.

The competitive BEST grants approved this week by the state’s highest public education governing body total almost $623 million for schools around the state.

The Capital Construction Assistance Fund, established in 2008 as a branch of the Colorado Department of Education, will provide about $297 million of the money, and $146 million represents income from the Colorado State Land Board, marijuana excise taxes, the Colorado Lottery and interest on the fund. 

Locally, Widefield School District 3 received two grants: $767,000 to remove asbestos and renovate Watson Junior High School, and a $568,000 boiler replacement at two elementaries and one junior high.

Lewis-Palmer D-38 in Monument will replace the boiler at its middle school, a $1.5 million project, Cripple Creek-Victor RE-1 will do $29,500 worth of district-wide safety and security upgrades, and Colorado Springs School District 11 will replace the roof at Palmer High, at a cost of $3.6 million.

The state also awarded D-11 one of 24 emergency grant requests to address ventilation and filtration issues related to COVID-19. D-11 will replace the HVAC system at Bristol Elementary, a $1.1 million project.

In total, applicants will contribute approximately $262 million in matching funds.

Manitou D-14 needs to come up with about $15.2 million for the high school renovation and new middle school for its share, with the state contributing $8.2 million.

The current middle school building will be preserved for administrative offices, community program spaces, STEM learning and athletics, Domangue said.

D-14 also received a nearly $2 million BEST grant to replace the roofs on its two elementary schools and improve entrance vestibules while retaining the buildings’ historic qualities. The district’s expected contribution is nearly $1.3 million.

This is the first time D-14 has applied for BEST grant funding, Domangue said.

The proposed projects come as the district prepares to celebrate next year the 150th anniversary of the district's founding and the 100th anniversary of Manitou Springs Elementary School opening.

“The BEST funding is essential to ensuring that the condition of our schools provides the experiences our students deserve,” Domangue said. “This funding and the entire bond package will go toward restoring school district facilities to honor their history and continue their legacy.”

A bond measure also would pay for improvements, safety enhancements and educational upgrades at each of D-14’s four schools; projects to add amenities accessible to the community as a whole; and improvements to outdoor facilities for learning, sports training and playing.

The most recent school renovations were completed in 1988 and 2002, Domangue said, and the 2002 election bonds have been paid off.

Manitou Springs voters approved a $1.8 million mill levy override in 2015, adding 3 mills to help offset state budget cuts.

The district identified the new capital construction projects during a six-month master-planning process that involved everyone from top leaders to students and the community.

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

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