by Karen Schotz
In early fall of 2015, the Jeffco school board wrestled with building a new school in Northwest Arvada to accommodate the growing student population. The board considered sites at Table Mountain, Leyden Rock, and Candelas. After discussing where the greatest growth in students was occurring, site building constraints and other factors, the board directed staff to begin preparations for building a new school on the Candelas site. The board at the time directed the school be built for Kindergarten through 6th grade. They set aside $15 million in cash to build a school to accommodate about 600 students.
Shortly after these decisions, three members of the board were recalled. The new board, which includes three members currently running for re-election, changed the plan, and began discussing using debt to pay for the new school at Candelas rather than the cash that had been set aside. In addition, the grade configuration was changed from K–6 to a PreK–8 and capacity was increased to 800 students. The district facilities staff proposed a budget of $25 million and suggested increasing capacity to 1,000 students.
In January 2016, the board approved changing the grade configuration of Candelas to PreK–8 and expanding the capacity of the
“The cost projections increased by 20% or $8 million, yet not one board member questioned the increases.”
school to support 800 students. The board decided to use short-term debt in the form of Certificates of Participation (COP’s) which do not require taxpayer approval. The cost estimate remained at $25 million.
At the same meeting, the board approved using additional debt to add 250 classroom seats to Sierra Elementary at an estimated cost of $15 million. These two decisions added over $40 million in debt to the district balance sheet and committed taxpayers to debt repayments which will reach nearly $70 million.
Two short months later, the board approved the resolutions for the debt agreements, but the cost of the Candelas campus had grown to $31 million and the costs for the Sierra additions had risen to $17 million. The cost projections increased by 20 percent or $8 million, yet not one board member questioned the increases.
In November 2016, with construction progressing, the board approved the name Three Creeks K–8 for the new school. In mid- November the board decided not to have seventh and eighth graders the first year, but instead only allow K–6 grade students to attend. In addition, the board decided on boundaries for the new school and changes for the surrounding schools.
There were two boundary options presented to the board. Option one was to use Leyden Rock Parkway as a boundary for the new school. This is the option the community supported as it would have kept the community together. The projection was for initial enrollment to be 432 students in a school built to educate 800. The other boundary option presented was to use Jefferson Parkway as the boundary. Staff estimated fewer than three hundred students would enroll in year one.
Despite pleas to keep the community together the board approved using the Jefferson Parkway boundary regardless of enrollment projections at far less than half of capacity. This also delayed the removal of temporary buildings which are being used at West Woods and Meiklejohn Elementary schools.
Families living in Leyden Rock were very disappointed. Not only will their students now go to two elementary schools—Three Creeks and Meiklejohn—they will also attend two different middle schools—Oberon which is close to the neighborhood and Wayne Carle,
“$31 million project for 800 students sits half empty in its first year of use.”
the farthest north middle school in the district.
Most disappointing to families was that the Jefferson Parkway boundary meant that the new $30 million school, built to alleviate overcrowding, would open at less than half capacity. Initial enrollment data show there are about 350 students at Three Creeks School which is built to hold 800 and yet dozens of temporary classrooms remain at Meiklejohn to handle the overcrowding.
A project that was meant to cost $15 million for 600 students was increased to a $31 million project for 800 students but sits half empty in its first year of use.