Residents discuss Yampa Building issue at Moffat County School District town hall
Dozens of people turned out to get answers from the Moffat County School District Board of Education during a community town hall held on July 16 at the former East Elementary School.
The meeting was one of the first public MCSD meetings broadcast live through the Moffat County Proud Facebook page.
After hearing heated testimony from the public in June, board members scheduled a community town hall to answer any remaining questions surrounding the future of the district’s oldest building.
The nearly 100-year-old Yampa Building, located at 775 Yampa Ave., was destined to be transferred to the county for a nominal fee for use by Memorial Regional Health’s nonprofit and investors to build a for-profit treatment center for individuals struggling with substance abuse, before the MCSD Board of Education voted in June to table a decision on the matter until July.
At a special meeting of the Memorial Regional Health board of directors held July 9 at MRH, Board Chair Cathrine Blevins said one of the main investors of the proposed rehabilitation project expressed he was no longer interested in the Yampa Building.
As a result, the Yampa Building is in limbo at the moment, as it is no longer being used by the school district and no other offers have been made, district officials said.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Superintendent Dave Ulrich apologized for a perceived lapse in communication between the district and the general public.
“I can always get better at communication,” he said. “I thought I was doing a good job, but what we saw at the board meeting in June tells me that I was not doing a good enough job.”
When the district learned that the MRH partnership had fallen through, Ulrich said he approached the board about whether or not they still wanted to hold the question-and-answer session.
“What I wanted to do was say, ‘OK, this is the opportunity with a group that is not normally engaged with the school,” he said. “We have the opportunity tonight to put the Yampa Building in a larger context with our long-term maintenance needs. …This is what I should’ve done a year ago in January with you guys that way you would’ve been informed along the way.”
Ulrich passed out flyers with a timeline of events that took place surrounding the Yampa Building decision, the BOE’s goals, and, on the opposite side, a breakdown of commonly referenced numbers associated with the property.
“I know there was something out there that allegedly I had said, or I had some book in my office that said, that the building had been assessed at $5.8 million,” he said. “That is not true. What I have is this ‘Best’ assessment that says if that building needed to be redone in its current format what would the cost be to build it exactly like it is. And that’s the cost they gave us.”
He said the $1.6 million county assessment was not equal to a market value estimate of the property. And the $3.3 million dollar number, he said, was a cost estimate of necessary renovations the building would need over the next five years provided by the Colorado Department of Education’s Best assessment completed in 2017.
Consultants from the Denver-based TreanorHL, a company contracted by the district to assist in formulating a master facilities plan, were invited to speak about the state of the district’s facilities and future community outreach events planned to gather input about facility needs and proposals.
TreanorHL Consultant Patrick Johnson said his team was impressed by how well the district has maintained its aging facilities, however he added that the district has almost too much square footage to maintain.
“I think the big takeaway as we see as outsiders is that there’s nothing wrong with the bones of these buildings,” Johnson said. “You’ve got good buildings that can go on for another generation at least, but with that you have ongoing maintenance issues. … The Yampa decision was kind of inflight before we were hired. But this is typical of districts with older facilities; they have ADA (American with Disabilities Act) problems, technology problems, cost of maintenance and upkeep issues. And it gets to a point where the building is functionally obsolete for the purpose of education.”
After TreanorHL finished their presentation, the question-and-answer portion of the meeting commenced. Audience members were asked to write their questions down on notecards. Ulrich read each notecard aloud to the board. BOE Treasurer Chip McIntyre and President Jo Ann Baxter were unavailable to attend the town hall. Vice President Jobeth Tupa, Secretary Dr. Elise Sullivan, Chris Thome, Jnl Linsacum and Cindy Looper were in attendance Tuesday.
Many questions from the audience surrounded the district’s future plans for the Yampa Building.
“We don’t know,” Ulrich said. “We had a plan, and that has fallen through. Hopefully we’ll see something come clear for us here in the next couple of months.”
One audience member asked if the board could give the public an estimate as to how much the Yampa Building is worth. Ulrich cautioned the board before answering that question.
“I think any guess we give is just going to be out there and another number that’s causing confusion,” Ulrich said. The district will likely seek to finish an appraisal for the building that was put on hold in November and Ulrich has said that he will share the appraisal value when that number becomes available.
Another notecard questioned the perception that the Yampa Building was chosen to be vacated because it could return the most money to the school district.
“We’ve done really smart budgeting and have really made our financial position stronger and I’m not sure that money rose to the top of our decision-making,” Dr. Elise Sullivan said. “It was, ‘don’t be a landlord.'”
Sullivan added that finding a way to aid community members was a goal.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think we landed where everyone thought we were helping the community,” she said. “Where we started out was not about how much money we were going to get.”
Looper also reiterated that renting out the Yampa Building was not the board’s mission.
“Our mission is to help educate students,” she said. “I have a rental property and I don’t even want the one I have. I don’t want to be on a board that has rental properties.”
“When you sell anything, what it’s worth is what someone is willing to pay for it,” Looper said.
Ulrich emphasized the board’s goals detailed on the district’s flyer.
“I want to reassure you that the goal was to keep it in public hands with a transfer,” he said. “There’s not a line item for revenue generated by the Yampa Building. That was the goal of the board from the very beginning was to keep it in the public’s hands.”
When asked if the building was offered to the city and county for the same nominal amount it was offered to the county for use by MRH, Ulrich confirmed that he pitched the same offer to multiple similar taxing entities.
The board also was asked why they haven’t put the building on the market.
“I think everybody thinks that could be a good thing, but I also have some fears as to what that could be,” Sullivan said, citing concerns about what would happen to the building once it changed hands.
Ulrich said that if the district were to list the property for sale on the open market it would take some of the control out of the district’s hands.
“Once we put a ‘For Sale’ sign out there, we cannot discriminate,” he said. “I can’t say, ‘I don’t like what you’re going to use the building for,’ and then sell it to somebody else for less. We have to be super careful when we do that.”
Ulrich declined to name MRH’s treatment center investors in response to an audience query.
“That’s fallen through, and that’s the relationship between the county and the hospital, so that wouldn’t really be appropriate for us to comment on,” he said.
As to whether the district has plans to advertise the property on the local market, Thome said that depends on “feedback from this group.” However, members of the audience were not allowed to speak publicly during the town hall.
Two board members had differing opinions when asked about pitching the Yampa Building to the Craig City Council and county commissioners one more time.
While Sullivan said she was unsure about the financial status of the government entities, Thome seemed open to the idea.
“There’s a new city council and a new mayor,” he said. “The city may have a different point of view. But in 2017, I was there, there was no interest, they didn’t want another property to maintain. That was the city. The city at that time was clear that they didn’t want it.”
The MCSD Board of Education will meet in the Colorado Northwestern Community College Cedar Mountain conference room on July 30 for a workshop and special session meeting.
The work session will last from 8 a.m to 4 p.m. The special session is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.
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