There is a proposal to bulldoze and replace Columbine High School. This would require approval by the voters as a special ballot measure to fund the project, which is estimated to be upwards of $70 million. Superintendent Dr. Jason Glass for Jefferson County Public Schools, released a letter on June 6 titled, “A New Columbine?” The letter started the conversation on the districts intended plans and the voters will get the final say.
As a Columbine survivor, alumni, and a parent who lives in the Jeffco R-1 district, I have some thoughts. Just the proposal of this project shows a very concerning set of priorities, and the nonsensical allocation of funds is concerning as well. Full disclosure, I am not emotionally attached to the physical building, but do understand that there are a lot of people who are. I have a lot of incredible memories from within those walls and of course, some very painful ones too. I still have many connections to the school and my position on this matter is not intended to be an insult to those connections. I do agree with something that former Columbine Principal Frank DeAngelis said in support of the new building in a Facebook post, “It is the people that make us a family not the building.”
From an unemotional and logical examination of this proposal, it is clearly evident that there are numerous other schools that would qualify on a needs basis long before Columbine. According to Jeffco’s own Facility Condition Assessment Summary of Findings and using the Facility Condition Index (FCI) which, “is an industry recognized formula that provides a general indicator of a building’s health. This index is calculated by dividing the total repair costs into the total replacement costs for a like facility. The district-wide FCI for Jeffco Public Schools is currently 20.4.” Columbine is rated at a 21, while about a third of Jeffco’s 155 schools have higher scores, some rated in the 60’s.
Columbine was built in 1973 along with two other high schools, Green Mountain and Pomona, for a rapidly growing community which needed new facilities to accommodate the increase in population. That demand and budget constraints led to a fiscally responsible decision to build cost effective and useful buildings. The three buildings were not very attractive, but they educated thousands of students all the same. In 1995, all three schools received upgrades and remodels to some varying degree, and after the massacre Columbine had another round of remodel, rightfully so.
Nonetheless, because of Columbine’s history there is an argument to be made that it has unmeasurable factors that should be considered. To that point I would agree. There is undoubtedly a certain amount of morbid fascination, which is going to exist with or with out the current building. However, what I believe to be the most important factor is being completely ignored, school safety. It seems that the Jeffco School district would like to spent $70 million on one school while completely ignoring critical safety issues throughout the whole district.
Jeffco stands behind their safety plan despite obvious and unexplainable gaps. Jeffco has incredible School Resource Officers (SROs), some which I know personally. The security division is very dedicated and I have met many of them as well. This is not an indictment on these brave men and women who I know would die to protect the lives that are entrusted to them every day. This is an indictment on the school board’s avoidance and the district’s lack of leadership to secure every single school every day.
During the Sol Pais fiasco back in April, the district all but admitted that your kids are safer at home with you than going to school. The decision to close all schools demonstrated that there is a lack of resources and manpower to keep every school safe. The district was honest in their assessment that when a threat is present the children and staff of Jeffco are safer by not coming to school. The district only has 30-something SROs plus a small staff of armed security for the 155 schools. Having school staff designated as security officers is a proven method in deterring, preventing and stopping active shooters. A recently released report from the Crime Prevention Research Center showed that out of the almost 1,000 school districts nationwide that allow staff to carry concealed there have been ZERO mass shootings and ZERO deaths by firearms for the last 19 years! Meanwhile, we have seen what happens at schools and in districts that leave gaps and vulnerabilities with no one to stop an intruder whose intent is to murder. I would be more apt to vote for more SROs than to vote to fund a new school.
Does Columbine need a new facility? My honest answer is no, not yet. I believe Dr. Glass tried to sell the project on the emotional aspects on the heels of the twentieth anniversary of the massacre, not because it is completely necessary yet. It is clear by how vocal the staff and administration has been that they want a new facility, but who wouldn’t want to work in a new state of the art facility? Columbine is one of the safest schools because it receives the most attention and best resources that the district has to offer.
The school is aging and will probably need to to be replaced down the road. Before any grand plans for even one new facility is made, I would demand that all of our schools are properly secured and protected. It is simply not acceptable that only some of the schools get protection all of the time, while others are left completely vulnerable. It is also not acceptable that it is a priority of the school district to lobby for a $70 million facility while continuing to ignore these potentially grave security issues.