Growth on the Horizon: DCSD to double in size in 20 years
Addressing today’s needs to prepare for tomorrow’s growth
CASTLE ROCK – While it may not be noticeable in the typical classroom at Castle View High School, the school is bulging at the seams. This year, 1,920 students attend the school, which is designed to comfortably seat 1,700. Projections show that this may be a sign of things to come across the Douglas County School District (DCSD) and one reason why addressing current capital needs in Douglas County is important.
According to current enrollment projections based on all known and approved residential development, by 2040 the DCSD is expected to have 118,000 students, nearly doubling the number in our schools today.
Richard Cosgrove, DCSD’s Director of Planning and Construction, says this would double the number of schools needed. In today's dollars, this will cost $1.5 billion to construct over 6 million square feet of new schools. For example, just one high school at over 250,000 square feet costs anywhere from $60 million to $80 million.
With growth on the horizon, the District’s Planning and Construction department is doing everything it can to educate parents, employees and other stakeholders about the current capital needs, before the focus must turn primarily to building new buildings.
“Right now we have a very small window before that growth hits us,” Cosgrove said. “If we have funds now we can more easily prioritize our repair needs, before we have to build more schools.”
Due to the drastic reduction in housing development during the recession, the District is currently experiencing more modest growth than it historically has. Once the current developments start being occupied by families with school-age children in the next 5-8 years, the District is expecting to experience rapid growth which will lead to 118,000 students in 2040.
The Master Capital Plan, created by the Long Range Planning Committee, identifies the needs of each DCSD building. As you might expect, older and bigger buildings have the highest levels of need.
“The industry standard is to annually reinvest two percent of the total replacement value of all your buildings in facility and equipment repairs, which is commonly called reinvestment or renewal. That equates to $30 million each year for this district and is based on the fact that we currently have 6.6 million square feet of schools,” Cosgrove said.
While DCSD can use money from its General Fund to cover capital costs, this would come at significant tradeoffs as DCSD is the lowest funded school district on the Front Range due to the Colorado School Finance Act.
“There is a significant ramification of taking $30 million out from our General Fund to address capital needs, given the fact that more than 85 percent of our General Fund is salary and benefits, mostly for teachers. The other 15 percent is spent on other operational needs such as school supplies, textbooks, utilities and transportation. It would impact the education of our kids to repurpose these funds,” Cosgrove said.
The State of Colorado funding formula only provides enough money for the education of the students, not the buildings where learning occurs. Those capital needs are generally covered through bonds, approved by the county’s voters. Not only does the Colorado School Finance Act not provide funding for capital reinvestment, it also does not provide any funding for capacity issues. If a school district is facing capacity issues and needs to build new schools they must fund that all locally – there is no funding provided for building new schools when current schools are overcrowded.
To see the impact of growth and unmet capital needs on a school, look no further than Castle View High School. While the home of the Sabercats is one of the District’s newer facilities, celebrating its tenth anniversary next year, the school has been forced to utilize multiple mobile classrooms to meet its needs.
“We have classroom space for the teachers and the students, but it is much more inconvenient than classroom space that is in a building,” Principal Dr. Jim Calhoun said. “If it is raining or snowing or the weather conditions are cold and blustery, it is obviously uncomfortable for students to go back and forth, or worse in the middle of class they have to go to the bathroom.”
While the mobiles have allowed Castle View to keep class sizes manageable, it is impacting students.
“The consequence is that sometimes students cannot take the class they need, because there are conflicts,” Calhoun said. “We just added an eleventh science classroom. Those are booked every day, every period.”
The school has continued to innovate with the space available, creating the Mosaic Program, a transformative learning environment, which has brought students from as far away as Colorado Springs, Denver and Kiowa. Next year, however, Castle View will add its last possible mobile classroom, which means the school will need to turn away students.
“For the first time in the 10-year history of Castle View High School, we are going to have to limit our enrollment to 2,000 students. We have not limited our enrollment in the past,” Calhoun said.
The school, however, was built with the ability to expand to meet the future needs of the Meadows community in Castle Rock. Like other DCSD schools of the same design, architects planned for an additional wing, which Castle View calls the “F Pod.” The problem, as noted in the Master Capital Plan, is that the expansion will cost $9 million, money not available without additional funding to the District.
For now Calhoun is looking at how other schools, like Rock Canyon, have remodeled to fit more students.
“That is a short-term fix that is very, very expensive in the long run. It may be something we have to do until we get the additional wing,” Calhoun said.
A dozen town hall meetings
The Douglas County School District is currently hosting a dozen town hall forums to inform stakeholders about DCSD’s current capital needs, future growth needs and share your ideas on effectively meeting these priorities for years to come.
A full list of events is available at www.tinyurl.com/dcsdmcp
If you can’t make it to a meeting, the same location has a video of the presentation and an opportunity to provide feedback online.