LPS asking voters to OK bond for new buildings

Largest-ever bond would rebuild aging facilities, increase taxes

Posted 8/26/18

Littleton Public Schools will ask voters to approve a nearly $300 million bond in November, aiming to begin a long-term effort to rebuild a district whose buildings date back to the baby boom. The …

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LPS asking voters to OK bond for new buildings

Largest-ever bond would rebuild aging facilities, increase taxes

Posted

Littleton Public Schools will ask voters to approve a nearly $300 million bond in November, aiming to begin a long-term effort to rebuild a district whose buildings date back to the baby boom.

The bond, which if approved would be more than triple the size of the previous largest-ever bond of $85 million in 2002, would be earmarked for numerous large-scale projects: replacing Newton Middle School with a new building, rebuilding and reopening the long-shuttered Ames Elementary School, consolidating Highland and Franklin elementary schools in a new building on the Franklin site, establishing a Career and Technical Education center in a newly acquired building beside Littleton High School, and a laundry list of smaller projects across the district.

The Littleton Public Schools Board of Education voted unanimously in favor of asking voters to approve the bond at their Aug.23 meeting.

The plan is the culmination of a year and a half of study by the district's Long-Range Planning Committee, said Superintendent Brian Ewert, who said the big picture is to begin a long process of carrying Littleton Public Schools generations into the future.

“Our buildings have been well maintained, but they're at the end of their lifespan,” Ewert said. “It's going to take us 30 years to address this, but if we don't start now, it just kicks the can down the road.”

The current average age of buildings in LPS is 58 years, Ewert said, and the district last built a new facility in 1981. Many bear significant structural problems, he said, and he added that the district's buildings are ill-equipped to handle the technology and programming needs of 21st-century education, and many have numerous problems with access for people with disabilities.

Tax increase

If approved, the bond would mean an additional $29 to $49 a year in taxes per $100,000 of actual home value for homeowners in the district, according to estimates published on a district website, meaning someone with a house valued at $400,000 could expect to pay an additional $116 to $196 a year. The district covers Littleton proper, as well as portions of west Centennial, Bow Mar, Columbine Valley and Greenwood Village.

The total bond amount would be $298,870,000, according to ballot language, with a total repayment cost of up to $584,690,150. Voters last approved a bond for Littleton Public Schools in 2013, to the tune of $80 million.

The bond issue would take its place on a crowded ballot this fall, with voters statewide set to decide on Amendment 73, which would revamp income taxes to raise money for public education, and with voters in Littleton to decide on a fire protection merger that could raise property taxes.

“I know I get uptight about tax increases,” Ewert said. “But as goes the value of the school district, so goes the value of your property. Part of the reason people are drawn to Littleton is our great schools.”

Big changes

The bond would mean big changes, largely on the district's eastern side.

Newton Middle School at 4001 E. Arapahoe Road would get a completely new two-story building, to be built alongside the existing building, which would then be demolished. The school would also be the site of the district's new “junior stadium,” meant to ease demand on the district's stadium at Littleton High School.

Ames Elementary at 7300 South Clermont Drive, closed in 2009 after years of falling enrollment, would be reopened in a new building, due in part to an influx of young families to the area in recent years. Services currently utilizing the old building, including TLC Meals on Wheels, would be moved to Highland Elementary.

Highland Elementary at 711 E. Euclid Ave. would be merged with Franklin Elementary on the latter's site at 1608 E. Euclid Ave., occupying a new building. The old Highland building might begin hosting other district programs.

The old Schomp Automotive building, just south of Littleton High School, would be converted into the Career and Technical Education and Innovation Center, intended to provide training in trades including automotive, computer coding, construction, plumbing, welding and other fields.

Other efforts around the district would include replacing classroom furniture district-wide, and addressing a backlog of infrastructure and maintenance projects at other district buildings.

No time like the present

When it comes to replacing the district's infrastructure, there's no time like the present, said Board of Education member Carrie Warren-Gully.

“The interest rates are only going to go up,” Warren-Gully said. “Even half a percentage point is huge when you're talking about $298 million.”

The bond is a case of striking while the iron's hot, said board member Jack Reutzel.

“We have an opportunity with this economy to change the trajectory of this district with regard to infrasturture,” Reutzel said.

The 2013 bond, while providing much-needed repairs, wasn't a cure-all, Reutzel said.

“It was a Band-Aid,” Reutzel said. “A tourniquet. We were stopping the bleeding, but the patient was still going to die.”

Such a project is not without risk, said board member Jim Stephens.

“In addition to the financial risk of issuing debt, we have a significant execution risk of managing such a large construction program, and we need to pay a significant attention to that,” Stephens said. “We could get sideways on that side, even if we get the money as cheaply as possible.”

Ewert said his hope was that if voters approve this measure, the district wouldn't come asking voters for more money for another 10 years. Still, he said, this is the chance to begin leaving a legacy for generations to come.

“We talk a lot about creating learning spaces for the 21st century,” Ewert said. “Well, we're well on our way through the 21st century.”

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