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Jeffco board OKs financing of new construction, holds off on bonuses

Jefferson County school board President Ron Mitchell.  (Photo by Nicholas Garcia, Chalkbeat)
Jefferson County school board President Ron Mitchell. (Photo by Nicholas Garcia, Chalkbeat)

GOLDEN — A burgeoning neighborhood in northwest Arvada is one step closer to having a school of its own.

In a pair of unanimous votes, the reconfigured Jefferson County school board Thursday gave its blessing to district officials to seek lease-to-own financing options to build a kindergarten through eighth grade school that would serve the Candelas neighborhood.

The moves reversed a decision by the previous board majority to build the school with $15 million in cash. Those board members were ousted in a high-profile recall election in November.

Board members called the new financing option common sense.

“You don’t buy a house with the pennies in your piggy bank,” said board member Brad Rupert. “You get a mortgage.”

As part of the deal, Jeffco Public Schools officials will hold on to the $15 million that was earmarked for the new school.

Previously, district staff had suggested that money be used for one-time bonuses and reserves. However, because of a bleak financial forecast from the state, district officials want that money on hand for “flexibility.”

The money could still be used for bonuses, but a decision won’t be made until later this spring.

“We’re not out of the woods as far as future budget cuts,” said board member Amanda Stevens. “I welcome that flexibility.”

The school board, on a 4-1 vote, also directed district officials to begin the process to secure financing to complete a new wing at Sierra Elementary School in Arvada. Construction on that building halted in 2008 when county residents rejected a bond question.

Stevens was the lone opposing vote. She said she could not vote for the project because other schools face similar construction needs.

The board must vote one more time on the amount of money the district will borrow for both projects. Previous estimates put the Candelas school at $25 million and the Sierra school at $15 million.

The district’s executive director of facilities, Tim Reed, warned that those estimates might go up.

“We’re dealing with a volatile construction market,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled Tim Reed’s last name.

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