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Task force tours old M-CHS, discusses options

Members of a task force that will investigate options for the retired M-CHS building toured the building on Tuesday and discussed plans including leasing, sharing and demolishing the building.

Kemper Elementary Principal Jamie Haukeness, who also is executive director of facilities and school safety for Montezuma-Cortez RE-1 school district, led the group of about 40 people on a tour through the dusty, deteriorating building on W. Seventh Street. Task force members were asked to submit an anonymous survey that asked whether the district should keep the building and bring it up to code compliance or remove the asbestos in the building and demolish it.

“We want to listen to the community,” Haukeness said.

The task force will meet several times through May, and then provide the RE-1 school board with two or three feasible options for the retired building, Haukeness said.

Demolition is an expensive option.

Removing potentially harmful asbestos could cost the district $1.2 million, Haukeness said. Some 82,000 square feet of cinder block walls in the building contain asbestos-based primer and asbestos-based masonry filler. The stucco ceiling of the auditorium also contains asbestos. Brick walls in the building do not contain asbestos, he said.

The floor of the auxiliary gym in the building is mercury-based and would need to be removed before demolition, Haukeness said. One bid to remove that flooring was $109,000, he said. He noted that the gym was closed off during the last few years that students occupied the building.

Not all the walls are filled with asbestos, Haukeness said, because they were added later to the main structure.

Another potential plan calls for moving some district administrative offices from the Downey School at 400 N. Elm St., into the old high school. Those offices would be located in the former high school office in the 100 hall, Haukeness said. That section of the building needs HVAC work, which could cost about $25,000, he said.

Haukeness also discussed using the former library for school board meetings or community events. He also said some other district departments could move to the building, including food service, information technology and maintenance.

As part of that plan, fire doors would be installed to close off the 200, 300 and 400 halls of the building, as well as the auxiliary gym. But those portions of the building wouldn’t be demolished, he said.

Moving district departments into about half the building would cost at least $500,000 to bring the building into compliance with fire codes and other regulations, Haukeness said.

RE-1 District Accountability Board member Monica Plewe has proposed using $1.87 million that has been set aside for a new stadium for demolition of the old building instead. Tuesday, though, she said voters would need to decide what to do with that money.

Cortez Mayor Karen Sheek said there had been talk of other entities, such as the Piñon Project, relocating to the old building. She asked what other options those non-school district groups would have if the building was used for RE-1 purposes.

Haukeness said he didn’t know the answer to that, but there could possibly be space in the other halls of the building. If the school district rented out other sections of the building, it would need to pursue a commercial rezone for the retired high school, he said.

The task force will prepare a survey to solicit input from the public on what to do with the retired building. That survey will be available March 25 on the district’s website, www.cortez.k12.co.us. Also on that day, reports and documents associated with the task force will be available at the Board of Education room at the RE-1 district central office at the Downey School, 400 N. Elm St., Haukeness said.

Haukeness called for unity as the task force deliberates over the next few months.

“Let’s support each other and solve the dilemma together,” he said.

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