As November approaches, Dolores residents continue to deliberate how they will vote Nov. 7 on Ballot Issue No. 4A, which, if passed, would contribute $11.2 million to the construction of a new high school and other school renovations upon the awarding of the Colorado Department of Education’s BEST grant, which would provide $18 million.
The Dolores RE-4A school board voted to move forward with the bond during the September meeting.
Superintendent Reece Blincoe, who has been a superintendent for 14 years, said when he arrived in Dolores, he was struck by how unsafe the school buildings are.
“I’ve studied safety in school buildings, and when I arrived I thought Dolores’ campus was one of the more unsafe campuses I’d seen in a long time,” Blincoe said. “We had to address safety issues.”
Blincoe noted that the district’s master plan committee – 20 people who are teachers, board members, community members and professionals such as architects – helped ensure that many voices were heard in the process.
He also said school tours helped to inform people about the state of the current building.
Emily Christenson, a first grade teacher and parent of a Dolores High School senior, said passage of the bond is essential for the strength of community and education of students.
“I think we need the bond to pass so that we can build and improve our schools, because when you have strong schools, you have a stronger community,” she said.
“We’re not in compliance with CDE standards,” she said. “I think the plan is to have more open high school classrooms and common areas which will allow for more collaboration, which is definitely needed.”
Jake Carloni, owner of the Dolores Bike Hostel, also spoke of his support of the bond.
“I come from a family of teachers,” Carloni said. “I was a product of good public schools, and I really know that importance of what a good public school can do for local communities and local economies. … I t’s time for us to invest in them having a better space and more opportunities to get them.”
High School Principal Justin Schmitt said studies about the building’s age and structural health are available at the school.
“That’s really the question for our community: Do they feel that it’s time to rebuild and remodel? And if they do, the district is doing all that they can and the board is trying to do so in a way in which all the funds are well stewarded,” Schmitt said.
Parent Stacie Cost, chairwoman of the Dolores Accountability Committee, said she believes the bond would make schools a better and safer place.
“I really want this school to continue to thrive. It needs improved safety and it needs to be brought out of the flood plain and it needs to be ADA compliant,” said Cost, a physical therapist. “It needs to meet all the requirements to be handicap accessible.”
Concerns about the bond were brought up by Dolores resident William Stroop, who asked what would happen with the bond funds if the BEST grant was not approved in 2024. Would the bond become a “blank check” for the district?
“I personally think many taxpayers would like to know about that before voting,” Stroop said.
Blincoe clarified the issue.
“If we do not get the BEST grant, the bonds will not be sold. If we don’t get the BEST grant in February of 2024, we will apply again in February 2025, but the bonds absolutely do not get sold until we’re awarded the BEST grant.”
He also added that the board will pass an additional resolution at the next board meeting on Oct. 12, further emphasizing that they will not sell the bonds until they received the BEST grant.
“We are going above and beyond to make sure our community is aware of that,” Blincoe said.
The Dolores School Campaign Committee, made up of volunteers, hosted school tours and has provided information about the bond for more than a month.
The master plan was finalized in 2022, and an application turned into the BEST grant committee in February. Although the grant was not awarded this year, feedback has informed the district as it worked on the bond and application for the BEST grant in 2024.
One of the areas that BEST asked Dolores to improve, and that was highlighted as a major issue in a community survey, was the district’s plans for flood mitigation. The district is now working with Goff Engineering of Durango on a plan to remedy flooding issues.
If the BEST grant is awarded, Dolores would enter Phase 1 of the master plan, which includes building a high school, demolishing the middle school, renovating the old high school to be the new middle school, building an agriculture lab, improving the HVAC system and improving safety features around campus.