Grand Lake school-building meeting exposes divided town
GRAND LAKE — The Grand Lake community, which had banded together in opposition to the closing of its only school, is now divided over what to do with it.
A group of town residents, non-residents and local government representatives attended a meeting in the Grand Lake Community House on Monday, June 23, to discuss what to do with the former Grand Lake Elementary School building.
Mayor Judy Burke appealed to citizens to go through with a deal in negotiation that may lead to the East Grand School Board selling the building for $1 to the Town of Grand Lake. Both the town and the school board have seen the deal as conciliatory, following the closing of the school, which angered Grand Lake parents and residents.
“We still don’t like it, but I think it’s time to move on,” said Burke. “We’re at a point now where we have to do something to move forward, and I think it was a very nice gesture for the school district to call us and say, ‘hey were thinking about selling the building, and we’d like to offer it to you first.’”
Burke said that the school board has identified three possibilities for the building – sell it to Grand Lake, sell it to a commercial interest or demolish the building.
The town has expressed that it would like to go forward with purchasing the building and has identified a number of options for the building’s use, from hosting after-school programs, to a community center, to pickleball courts.
“I would just like to see a community where kids can come and have that ignorance of the bad things out in the world,” said Eugene Cisneros, a former student at Grand Lake Elementary. “There should be pickleball. There should be all kinds of classes.”
Not all on board
But at the Monday meeting, some community members expressed reluctance to support buying the building, citing things such as a lack of resources to maintain it.
“I think it’s fiscally irresponsible for the town to take on the school,” said resident Diane Mahoney. “We don’t have money to take care of the buildings that we have here. These are all great ideas, but I don’t see a plan for funding them.”
Burke cautioned that, if it were sold to developers, the building could be taken over by a commercial marijuana grow operation, which would reduce nearby property values. But resident Randy Lewis, who lives across from the building, said he saw things differently.
“I would think of the tax revenue,” Lewis said. “I don’t care. I live right across the street, and that would be great. They can grow all the ganja in there they want. That would be swell. If the town makes $1 million a year on taxes, we could do some of these things, but we don’t have the resources.”
Lewis cited decreased library hours and the currently embattled Grand Arts Centers as proof that the town can’t support another community space.
“The biggest problem Grand Lake has is, if you don’t figure out a way for younger people to have decent jobs so they have some money, so they can be here with a family, there’s not going to be a Grand Lake,” Lewis said.
Some residents called for buying the building and then reselling it, but Grand County Assessor Tom Weydert cautioned that in similar sales in the past, the East Grand School Board had included stipulations that required the building be used for community purposes only, and that any other use would revert the building back to the school board’s ownership.
Burke said, in the event that Grand Lake purchases the property, the county had expressed interest in using the property for a new search and rescue facility and equipment storage facility.
Weydert said he didn’t see conditions like expensive real estate and low enrollment changing in Grand Lake in the next four to six years.
“Traditionally, residential properties have been more expensive,” Weydert said. “It’s not the young family starter community. I just don’t envision the school coming back.”
Economic Development Committee member Jim Kroepfl said he thought that the building should be used for single-family housing or a park.
“Let’s not get sentimental about a 35-year-old building that was built for a use that no longer exists,” he said.
But some residents were still reluctant to dismiss the possibility of a school returning to Grand Lake.
“If you are really saying that there’s not going to be a school here ever again, well that’s a sad state of affairs for this town to not put their foot down and say we want the option,” said Grand Lake-area resident Lisa Simpson
Currently, attorneys from the town and the school board are negotiating the stipulations of the possible sale, Burke said. The final stipulations would probably be available in the next 30 days, she said.
Koepfl said the town should push its own stipulations in the deal.
“We can make an offer $1, absolutely no conditions, and the school district can put up or shut up,” Koepfl said. “We can take control of this decision.”
Burke said she was concerned about the costs of the building.
The school district pays around $30,000 per year to maintain the 22,340 square-foot building, and Burke said she anticipated yearly maintenance costs for the town to be around $50,000, including the salary of someone who would manage the building.
“Quite frankly, I can tell you that the biggest concern for me is the cost,” Burke said. But she added that the number of citizens who wanted to use the building as a community space outweighed the costs.
“We keep talking about this being a village, and a village is a community that comes together to do things, to look to the future,” Burke said. “And I think this is an opportunity that we need to think about.”
The East Grand School Board doesn’t meet again until August 20. Grand Lake did not announce any more future meetings regarding the building.
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