A Cortez high school for the 21st Century?

Bond committee starts making its pitch at chamber luncheon

The Cortez 21st Century High School Committee is gearing up for a fall election drive.

The committee provided information to local business leaders on Wednesday as part of a Cortez Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

“3B or not 3B. That is the question,” said Becky Brunk, who is heading up the committee with Orly Lucero. 3B is the ballot number that voters will consider for a new Cortez high school on Nov. 6.

Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1 was approved for $22.72 million in BEST (Building Excellent Schools Today) grant funds, but voters will need to approve $21.25 million in bonds for the project to go forward.

Brunk noted that Re-1’s nine buildings were built decades ago, ranging from the building now used as Cortez Middle School in 1948 to Montezuma-Cortez High School in 1967. The high school, however, presents the greatest need for replacement, she added.

Judging from a show of hands in response to an audience member’s question about how many attendees believe a new high school is needed, the bond question has received widespread support.

The BEST program was established in 2008, but Brunk said this could be the last year of the program. According to the Colorado Department of Education’s website, BEST funds can be used for the construction of new schools as well as general construction and renovation of existing school facility systems and structures. It would cost $32 million to adequately renovate Cortez High School, school officials say. There are four revenue sources for the BEST Program: state Land Trust funds, Colorado Lottery spillover funds, applicants’ matching monies and interest.

M-CHS was one of 18 projects approved for BEST funds out of 74 applications this year.

“Construction costs and interest rates are lower now than ever,” Brunk said, adding that the cost to build a new high school would at least double if voters don’t approve the bond issue since it might not be available again.

Byron Maynes, president of First National Bank, Cortez, was a member of the first class to graduate from the current Cortez High School. “It was inadequate at that time (1967),” he said. The auditorium was built for 500 students but there were 850 attending at that time.

Today there are 642 students at M-CHS, Brunk said. The new school would be built for 700-plus.

“It’s miserably hot in the fall and spring,” said Maynes. “It’s miserably cold in the winter.”

Dena Guttridge, executive director of the Cortez Area Chamber of Commerce, graduated from the school in the 1980s. She remembers attending a typing class that didn’t have enough electrical outlets for all of the typewriters.

Guttridge’s son is a sophomore at the high school today. He wants to be a helicopter pilot but doesn’t qualify for a scholarship because there aren’t enough math and science classes offered at the school, she said. More classroom space would enable more classes to be offered at the new high school.

M-CHS Board member Jack Schuenemeyer said the district was required to include demolition costs in the BEST grant application, but the board hasn’t made any decision yet about the future of the old school.

“It doesn’t have to be demolished if there’s some useful purpose” for it. However, “we wouldn’t retain liability for it” under such a scenario, he said.

The bond will cost residential property owners $1.95 per $100,000 of assessed value per month, or $23.40 per year. Commercial entities would pay an additional $7.11 per $100,000 of assessed value per month, or $85.32 per year. Owners of agricultural property would pay an additional 49 cents per acre of irrigated land. Flood-irrigated land would be taxed 45 cents more, while dryland and grazing land would be hit with another 4 and 2 cents per acre, respectively.

For more information on the bond, go online at www.MCHSbond.com or call Brunk at 799-1567 or Lucero at 565-1128.

calebs@cortezjournal.com