Colorado Springs locals prepare to close a 114 year-old elementary school–Helen Hunt. School District 11 has been threatening to close the school dating as far back as 2005, but the Colorado Springs community has been successful in fighting against it, until this year. As of May, the school is set to close for good.
The decision to close the school was made after a board of seven district 11 members discussed different possible options on what to do with the building. After a week long process, the board members thought it was best to move the students to a different building.
“Some of the options they discussed were whether or not Hunt could be repaired. As a parent, I was aware that the building didn’t have air conditioning and the heat sometimes didn’t work in certain rooms, but I was hoping that the district would sort that out and that my son would have been able to complete his elementary days in the same place that I did when I was a kid.” – Yvette Mota (parent)
Although parents were in support of Hunt being renovated in order to continue schooling their children, the support just wasn’t enough to save the school this time.
The 400 students who are currently attending Helen Hunt will be moved to a different building just two miles away in what used to be John Adams Elementary.
According to KRDO News Channel 13, renovating Hunt up to the district’s standards would cost upwards of $14 million. Beyond the money that would be needed to repair the school, a lot of time would be needed to fix the ancient building. The construction both in and out of the landmark would exceed the three-and-a-half months that the students have off for summer break which would postpone the August semester from starting–and that’s just not possible.
John Adams Elementary closed due to construction and funding issues in 2009. Still, the old school seems to be in better shape than Hunt is. According to The Colorado Springs Gazette, the renovation of Adams would begin immediately and is estimated to cost six million dollars less than Hunt’s makeover, and the district would have double the time to fix Adams since the building is currently empty.
“They’re moving all staff students to Adams to cater to our students needs. Honestly, it sounds worse than it is. When they closed Adams in 2009 the kids and a lot of the staff were searching for a place to go, everybody was split up. Thankfully, this isn’t the case. I’m grateful that we are being given a better place to further the education of the students.” – Ms. Robin Buice (Helen Hunt Elementary Teacher)
Much like Hunt, John Adams Elementary was elected to close in 2009, during that time, Hunt was also put on the chopping block to be closed as well, thanks to the out-pour of support from the community, Hunt made the cut and was able to stay open. When Adams closed, eight other schools in the district did as well. Many of the students from Adams’ closure moved to Helen Hunt, but now it seems that the tables have turned.
In the past years, the parents used Hillside Community Center as a main argument to keep Hunt open. Hillside is located just three blocks from Hunt. The community fears that the after school programs will be left open and force Hillside to close as well.
“I hate to see the school close, I went there, I sent my kids there and now my grandchildren go there. I remember that the community center was built in the 90’s and my kids would go there for arts and crafts and such after class because I wasn’t able to get off of work. If it weren’t for Hillside, I don’t know how I would’ve managed to go to work while they were out of class.” -Marilyn McAllister (Resident of the community for 65 years.)
The community center prides itself on their after school programs that are mostly filled with Hunt students.”I would imagine that the move would effect Hillside because usually the teachers come pick the students up and walk them to the center. With the building moving so far, they won’t be able to do that anymore.” Robin Buice
Jackie Tafoya who is lead advisor at the community center, disagrees with Buice.
“I don’t think we would be effected because we could work with our school transportation and we would just have the teachers meet students at the nearest bus stop. I mean sure, it sucks that they’re moving buildings, but the Hillside staff is remaining hopeful that our after school programs won’t be too heavily hit, we are just glad the school isn’t completely closing. We love the Hunt kids.” – Jackie Tafoya
Helen Hunt Elementary is further south than any other elementary school in Colorado Springs. It is located in an area where the kids typically come from low income families. According to a PDF provided by District 11, 89% of the students that currently attend the school receive free or reduced lunch. “I know that the school isn’t in an amazing neighborhood, but you always hear about the schools in the south side closing, I can’t remember the last time I heard about a school up north going through this.” -Eliza Beverly (parent)
With the legalization of marijuana promising the school districts in Colorado money from taxes, it is a common wonder why schools are still closing.
When Colorado voted to legalize marijuana in 2010, the use of medical marijuana was approved. This is better known as Amendment 20. Since then, the use of marijuana has become more common than ever. In 2012, Colorado finally voted on Amendment 64 (better known as the legalization of recreational marijuana).
According to The Denver Post, the bill was passed 54.8% (yes) to 45% )no). Part of the reason that the state voted for Amendment 64 to pass was the fact that some of the taxes on recreational marijuana were promised to the Colorado schooling system. The amendment promises $40 million in tax revenue a year to better the Colorado’s schools.
Although the money sounds like it could drastically change the school system, some districts are benefitting more than others.
“The important thing to note is that schools are only receiving $40 million a year from this amendment. That may seem like a lot, but when you’re talking about an eight billion dollar budget, it’s nothing. D-11 has a lot of buildings to cover, and after splitting that money with all the other schools in the whole state of Colorado, it’s like we receive no money from Amendment 64. Smaller districts in south-east Colorado and other places may notice a difference, but not in bigger districts like D-11. That’s why you are still seeing schools close and districts downsize. A lot of people just assume that all of the money is being used to directly benefit their specific district, but the truth is, the $40 million doesn’t really help nor hurt our district drastically.”-Glenn Gustafson (Chief Financial Officer of D-11)
With Hunt closing, former students are expressing their sadness on Facebook.
Some of the students even recall when Hunt almost closed in 2005. “I do vaguely remember Helen Hunt having a scare of closing due to test scores. I remember staff and everyone having these incentives on how to get students up to par with passing tests and raising scores. There was a lot of extra tutoring and the staff told the students how we should look at these tests and gave us test taking strategies.”- Victoria Collazo (Former Hunt student)
It is not yet known if the school will continue to keep the name Helen Hunt once it moves to the once Adams building. However, what is known is that the students currently located in the historic elementary school are going to receive a better building to further their education while keeping the same teachers. The kids will also not be forced to be separated form their peers in their neighborhood.
The current Hunt building will be used as some sort of community building, the exact title of the building has yet to be announced. Members of the community are eagerly looking forward to what the new building will be. An empty historic building could really hurt the appreciation of homes in the area.