‘An investment for generations’

With $180 million bond approved, D2 sets sites on district-wide renovations

Inside Jessica Vasallo’s fourth-grade classroom, students studied fractions. From their perches on exercise balls, in traditional desk chairs and in floor-level plastic seats, the Centennial Elementary School classmates diligently worked through the mathematical puzzles.

As teacher Vasallo strolled through the room, checking students’ work and answering questions, a virtual hour glass ticked away the seconds remaining in the exercise on a smart board – today’s high-tech version of a chalk board.

Computers lined one wall of the classroom, and those movement-compatible seats were the result of a grant that Vasallo won to accommodate kids’ individual learning needs.

On the other side of the locked door, small cracks marred the impeccably clean floors and water damage from a leaky roof rippled the walls. But the imperfections are due to change soon.

Plans to overhaul the building’s roof, repair water damage and update decades-old fixtures are now under way, thanks to a $180 million referendum passed by Harrison School District 2 (D2) residents Nov. 6.

“We’re going to be able to renovate the … building,” said Centennial Principal Kim Noyes, a broad grin illuminating her face. “We’ll be able to bring all of the modern conveniences into the building under a new roof.”

“This is such an investment for generations of people.”

Residents voted, 10,172-6,994, in favor of the tax hike, which will fund district-wide capital improvements. Among the major projects slated for the five-year rebuild are renovating Sand Creek and Soaring Eagles elementary schools to make them K-8 institutions and completely renovating Carmel Middle School.

Centennial is the among the first five schools slated for work, and renovations will begin at the end of the current academic year, Noyes said. Sand Creek International, Otero Elementary, Fox Meadow Middle and Mountain Vista Community schools are also scheduled to be renovated over the summer.

“As soon as the kids exit the building, we’ll have the workers come in,” she said.

Each institution in the 11,700-student district will receive some level of repair, said Wendy Birhanzel, former Centennial principal and one of two individuals leading the district as chief operating officer. D2 will also form an oversight committee charged with reviewing and reporting on the use of the public funds. The tax increase is expected to cost the average homeowner about $15 more per month, or $180 per year.

It marks the first tax increase D2 has passed in 19 years.

“Our community is investing in itself,” Birhanzel said. “We love the Southeast community, so we want our kids to have . . . opportunities.”

“You plan for the next 20 years,” D2 Public Information Officer and Chief of Staff Christine O’Brien said during the tour of the elementary school. “This is such an investment for generations of people.”