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Column: Blueprints

We invest in the things that matter to us

While St. Vrain Valley Schools may not have a time machine made out of a Delorean or a flux capacitor on a school bus to travel back to the future, district leaders still must travel in time, imagining themselves into the future of the 13 communities across the 411 square miles of St. Vrain’s geographic boundaries, in order to best serve the children, neighborhoods, roads, and schools that will arrive 5, 10, 20, and 50 years from now. 

Forecasting Growth

St. Vrain Valley Schools is one of the few districts in Colorado that has experienced growing enrollment over the past decade, to approximately 33,000 students today, with a full build-out plan to approximately 70,000-75,000 students. New growth can come with challenges, more importantly though, growth brings great opportunities.District leaders must travel to the future to best plan and prepare for what’s ahead. 

The planning process in St. Vrain begins years, sometimes decades, in advance as the district’s operations team strategizes and navigates the significant complexities of planning and building new schools. Forecasting population changes and growth over time is both a science and an art. The planning department in St. Vrain uses state and community data to track birth rates, building permits, and population movement to make informed estimates of district enrollment growth over time.

Economic forecasts are also a factor, predicting population changes that reshape student demographics. “Growth spurs new jobs, homes, and kids,” said Brendan Willits, Planning Director for St. Vrain Valley Schools. “We blend economic and population data to anticipate which industries draw younger families.”

Building New Schools

Once planning forecasts demonstrate the need for a new school, the district must begin to determine where the school can and should be built. 

“To secure an ideal site, we have to collaborate with developers as they prepare land for residential neighborhoods, otherwise, only problematic parcels are left once subdivisions are approved,” added Willits. “We have estimates of where future growth is going to happen in the next 30 years, and we make estimates based on the current land use code of the population density and houses to help guide us on where to acquire property and where we're going to need those new school sites.”

The district holds over 950 acres of land, some of which was acquired through land that developers must set aside when building new neighborhoods, or through purchases and other acquisition processes. However, many school sites in the district’s real estate portfolio may not be ideally suited for a future school. The land acquisition process can take years, and includes environmental and geographic surveys, as well as considerations related to existing oil and gas infrastructure, flood plains, historical mining development, road infrastructure, acreage, growth, land use restrictions, and development. 

Once a need for a new school has been determined and the school site has been secured, the next step is financing the construction of a new school. Schools are built when communities pass bond measures to finance the construction, and can cost anywhere from $50-60 million for a neighborhood elementary school, to upwards of $150-200 million for a comprehensive high school. Bonds can only be used for brick-and-mortar projects and cannot be used for hiring, salaries, or school operational costs. In addition to new schools, bonds also fund safety upgrades, building maintenance and infrastructure needs, career and technical education facilities to support workforce development, and other improvements to educational spaces. St. Vrain Valley Schools passed a $260 million bond in 2016, which was used to build Soaring Heights PK-8, Grand View Elementary, Highlands Elementary, the Innovation Center, build a new Mead Elementary, complete substantial safety and security upgrades, add thousands of feet of classroom space to existing schools, renovate older buildings, and make necessary repairs and maintenance to buildings. 

“The planning process for additional schools has been in process for many years,” said Brian Lamer, Assistant Superintendent of Operations. “We continue to prioritize our approach to planning and preparation so that we can stay ahead of inflation, and be strategic and responsible stewards of our community’s resources and investments in our schools.”

Since the passage of the 2016 bond, the district has continued to experience significant growth. 

St. Vrain’s administration, in collaboration with multiple communities, is preparing to make a recommendation to the Board of Education to place a bond on the ballot in 2024 that will ensure the district’s continued commitment to academic excellence, accountability, safety, and providing the education that today’s students will need for tomorrow’s jobs and careers. St. Vrain’s 2024 bond initiative will not increase property taxes, and will represent a significant investment in advancing the future of our community. This is due to existing community investments, growth in population and economic strength, and strong financial management that has included budget outperformance, debt restructuring, and early debt payoff. The district has saved taxpayers more than $82 million over the past two decades, including $36.8 million this past December. 

The 2024 bond initiative will provide the education that today’s students will need for tomorrow’s jobs and careers, including skilled trades (plumbing, electrical, and construction), computer systems, cybersecurity, healthcare, and more; improve safety and security in school buildings; perform critical building maintenance and replace outdated electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems; continue the district’s commitment to academic excellence, safety, and accountability; and provide classroom additions and construction of new school buildings to address overcrowding and future enrollment.

A strong return on investment

A high-quality public education system is a catalyst for powerful economic development that attracts industry and jobs to our area. The quality of a neighborhood school has an enormous influence on the quality of the community, and is one of the most important factors in a home buyer’s decision regarding where to purchase a home. High-quality public schools also have other significant economic and social impacts. As the quality of a community’s public education system increases, its productivity, income, social stability, and economic development also rise, while crime rates, healthcare dependence, and public service costs decrease. 

Over the course of a lifetime, a high school graduate earns $331,000 more than a student without a high school diploma, and $754,000 more if they have an associate degree. If Colorado had reduced its dropout rate by 50 percent last year, the long-term benefit for those students would have been over $1.4 billion in increased earnings and economic gains. St. Vrain’s current on-time graduation rate is the highest in the Denver Metro Area at 93.3% and our dropout rate is the lowest in the Denver Metro Area at 0.6%.

The future is in our public schools

The well-known proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the next best time is now,” speaks to the significance of intent and time to advance positive outcomes that enhance and advance our world. When we choose to plant a seed, we are looking to the future with hopeful optimism that our efforts will provide a benefit that will improve our lives. We invest in the things that matter to us, and in what we believe will provide the strongest returns. Toward this end, St. Vrain will continue to travel in time in order to best prepare our system and community to welcome the children who will come into this world, five, 10, and 50 years into the future.