History in Focus: Hope for a landslide
This November, Moffat County will decide on ballot issue 4A, a bond initiative to renovate and update our school buildings. Looking back into the 1970s, citizens voted on a similar series of three school bonds. Two were missed opportunities, while the third resulted in the construction of Moffat County High School.
In the early 1970s a new power plant and increased coal production were on the horizon. A “boom” was coming, but it was difficult to judge just how the area would evolve and change over the next decade.
Hoping to get out in front of the impending growth, Moffat County Schools asked voters to approve the construction of a new high school in 1973. Without a strong campaign, and a lack of foresight about the tsunami of changes about to hit Craig, citizens narrowly defeated this first bond issue.
By 1974, the “boom” was accelerating. On Saturday, Sept. 14, ground was broken on the Craig Station, which was slated for completion in 1980. In his opening remarks at the ceremony, mayor Doyle Johnson prophetically stated, “This is a memorable occasion, we have all seen this area as it was for the last time.” (Craig Empire-Courier, 9/18/74).
At roughly 4,300 citizens, it was estimated Craig might grow to 12,000-19,000 during construction with a permanent population of 9,000-14,000. For the school district’s part, judging growth in enrollment was a nebulous and vexing issue. (Empire-Courier, 8/20/75).
In a series of articles written by school district employee Ed Townsend, possible solutions were discussed: increased use of modular classrooms, a year-round schedule with a quarter of students on vacation at any given moment, and even split school sessions where each half the district attended classes just five hours per day. All of these ideas were plagued by logistical and educational concerns.
The school board and superintendent Marv Grimm commissioned the design of a brand-new high school for a bond election on Oct. 7, 1975. The $9.9 million plan included an attached pool, spacious Vo-Ag buildings, a baseball diamond, a built-in bowl football/track stadium, a beautiful auditorium, and enough classrooms for 1,000 students.
More determined this time around, the district offered various speakers to address community groups. The schematics and diorama of the proposed high school were on display at the district offices. Empire-Courier editor Joe Stoddard opined in favor of the new school. Sadly, voters felt otherwise and defeated the bond, 798 to 693, and the chance for a crown jewel of a school went down in flames.
The defeat meant the 641 high school students would continue shuffling between the high school proper, two metal buildings, three modular classrooms, and down the alley near today’s Kum and Go in order to reach the Yampa Building (Empire-Courier, 10/1/75). One can only imagine the legendary lore of fights, romance and cigarettes that emerged from these moments beyond the scrutinizing eyes of school staff!
In April of 1978, the “boom” expanded even further when Colorado-Ute Electric Association unveiled new plans to build a third generating unit by 1983 (Empire-Courier, 4/26). By May, the school district and Superintendent Grimm proposed a revised third bond with a lower price tag of $7.9 million but also augmented by $1 million of Department of Local Affairs Impact Funds (Empire-Courier, 5/17/78).
To appeal to tight-fisted voters, the new plan scrapped the built-in bowl football/track stadium and baseball diamond. Elaborate Vo-Ag buildings were scaled back. The contentious issue of the pool was sliced off into a separate ballot issue to attract any voters opposed to a new pool. One has to wonder, however, if the pool had passed without the high school, would the district have built a lonely 25-meter pool at the top of Finley Lane?
When school started in August of 1978, the high school ballooned to 829 students in a school designed for 460. In one year, district enrollment mushroomed 321 students to 2,616. Sunset Elementary was bursting at the seams with 594 students. In six short years enrollment grew from 1,561 students to 2,616. (Empire-Courier, 8/30 and 9/27/78). Twelve modular classrooms were scattered throughout the district.
Voters finally felt and realized the effects of the “boom” era and approved a new school on Oct. 3. In a landslide,1,795 citizens voted in favor to just 465 opposed, an 80% approval. The pool also passed with 70% of voters approving, with a tally of 1,566 to 665.
In 1981, the new and beautiful MCHS received its first students and has stood at the top of Finley Lane as a sentinel to the pride, dreams, and hope that a strong education provides for our children. The upcoming November election is the next pivotal moment in the facilities and education we provide for our children and the students of Moffat County.
James Neton teaches history at Moffat County High School. He can be reached at email@example.com. Special thanks to the Museum of Northwest Colorado for access to the newspaper archives and Kurt Utzinger for his insight into the 1970’s school bond elections.
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