by D.J. DeJong
Mail Staff Writer
Negotiations between Colorado Mountain College and Buena Vista School District that resulted in an impasse regarding the fate of the CMC building in Buena Vista prompted both entities to issue press releases to clarify their positions.
Following the Aug. 28 publication of an article in the Chaffee County Times headlined “CMC bails on BV, surprises school board,” Colorado Mountain College assured the public that the college still has a presence in the northern Chaffee County school district. (The same article by Max Smith ran Aug. 30 in The Mountain Mail under the headline “Colorado Mountain College moves out of Buena Vista facility.”
In a Sept. 3 letter from CMC President and CEO Carrie Besnette Hauser, addressed to the Chaffee County business community, media organizations and interested residents, the college traced its timeline of negotiations between the school district and the college:
• In spring 2018 Lisa Yates, superintendent of the Buena Visa School District, requested use of several classrooms at the CMC Chaffee County Center for the district’s preschool programs. After determining the feasibility of the request, CMC agreed to allow BVSD to use the requested space for the 2018-2019 school year at no charge. In addition, CMC helped retrofit three classrooms, also at no cost to the district.
• On Nov. 1 Colorado Mountain College received a letter from the school district requesting initiation of formal negotiations for acquisition of the CMC campus in Chaffee County. In that letter, Yates suggested that the CMC campus is “attractive for ownership” by BVSD, and the district’s programs “could be well served by the location.”
• After receiving that request, CMC staff consulted with BVSD staff to prepare a recommendation for presentation to the CMC board of trustees at its next official meeting in January. The CMC trustees instructed CMC management to offer use of the CMC-Chaffee County campus at no cost to BVSD, as it believed that enabling early childhood education slots in Buena Vista was a greater benefit to the community than maintaining an underused building for college-level education only.
A Feb. 6 letter directed by the CMC trustees states that items such as insurance, maintenance and utilities would be the responsibility of the school district as part of its lease with CMC.
• Soon after, the college sent a draft three-year lease agreement to Yates, to begin June 1, the day after the prior lease expired, which would allow the district to have full use of the CMC-Chaffee County Center, including the authority to retrofit certain aspects of the building for safety of the children using the building and to comply with state regulations for early childhood centers.
CMC said that at no time during this process did BVSD notify CMC that the costs associated with leasing the CMC-Chaffee County Center, as presented in the agreement, were prohibitively costly to the district.
• During the time when the above-mentioned agreement was being prepared, BVSD made a formal offer to purchase the CMC-Chaffee County Center campus from the college, and in accordance with Colorado’s “Sunshine Laws,” CMC submitted a confidential counteroffer for BVSD’s consideration.
In a letter June 11, Yates not only notified the college that the district was ending formal negotiations for purchase of the building but additionally would not sign the one-year lease requested and previously approved by the district. Yates cited prohibitively high “new proposed costs” from CMC for acquisition of the facility.
In fact, CMC stated, these were not new costs, but the same terms included in the agreement previously vetted by the school district, including utilities, cleaning/maintenance and broadband internet, all standard costs associated with a tenant lease.
Hauser said that in anticipation of BVSD’s acquisition and occupation of the CMC-Chaffee County Center, the college vacated the building, removed all of its equipment and moved into space provided by Salida School District in the Kesner Building, where CMC already conducted classes.
CMC officials have said the CMC presence in Buena Vista remains unchanged from an academic standpoint, and eight dual-enrollment courses are being offered during the fall semester in classrooms at Buena Vista High School and McGinnis Middle School.
Those courses include Introduction to Chemistry, two sections of English Composition, Calculus I, History of Western Civilization, College Algebra, Jazz Ensemble and General Psychology II.
The college currently has no plans to reoccupy the Buena Vista building and has received formal and informal inquiries about the use of the CMC-Chaffee County Center, which are being investigated, Hauser said.
Hauser said, “It is CMC’s opinion that the college acted fairly, transparently and charitably to BVSD’s request to acquire CMC’s building through lease. Though the college and the district were not able to reach mutually acceptable terms for a purchase of the building, the college nonetheless fully intended to assist the district in using the facility for preschool programming in Buena Vista. CMC did not ‘bail’ on BVSD, but rather attempted to help the district achieve its goal of delivering an educational benefit to the greater Buena Vista community.”
Buena Vista’s response
Yates replied to the CMC letter with one dated Sept. 4. In the letter she stated the district was interviewed by the local paper (Chaffee County Times) for the story, and “we did not choose the headline.”
Yates said the article very clearly states the district values the partnership it has had with CMC over the years.
“Throughout the process of the district’s exploration of the CMC facility, and still today, the Buena Vista School district values CMC and believes us to be mutually beneficial partners.
“In good faith, we engaged with CMC regarding the Chaffee County campus in Buena Vista to achieve goals that would benefit CMC and the school district.”
Yates went on to address points she thought were not covered by the CMC letter concerning the negotiations:
• BV only investigated the lease and possible purchase of the facility because CMC initiated conversations with the BV School District about the availability of the Chaffee County Campus in Buena Vista, inquiring whether the district had an interest/need for the facility. Their expressed goal was to move to Main Street to better serve BV. BV engaged with CMC to support their ongoing presence in the community.
• The college recognized the property and the building in BV had been largely provided through community donations and so initially suggested a low- to no-cost offer or swap would be possible. Instead, CMC used a market-value appraisal of the campus and restrictions of sale of one of BV School District’s in-town properties to counter BVSD’s offer to purchase. All negotiations entered with CMC were with the understanding operations would continue in BV at an in-town location.
• In negotiations, BV Schools offered a Main Street property, Chaffee County High School, as a location for CMC to be in town, to support the expressed goal of keeping operations and a visible presence of CMC in BV.
• BV Schools’ concerns were raised when CMC chose to move a class that has been offered and filled in BV for the past seven years to the Salida campus, making it difficult for BV students to participate. When asked by a school employee if BV students would have access to concurrent enrollment after fall 2019, the Chaffee County CMC director would not confirm. CMC had assured BV verbally that no services would be lost, but this action seemed contrary to that sentiment.
Yates said that a mutually beneficial partnership was at the core of the district’s interactions with CMC in this process, and the district intended to meet the college’s desire/need to have a strong presence in Buena Vista by moving to Main Street or South Main while meeting the district’s desire to meet the community need of expanding preschool education.
Yates said the district values the opportunities CMC has provided BVSD students and is hopeful the future includes a return of operations and physical presence in the Buena Vista community.
The district would not consider future negotiations for the CMC campus property unless the college were to engage in a lower purchase price that took into account the community’s initial investment in the property and facility, Yates said.
The land for the CMC campus was donated to the college by Ronald W. Southard and Carole L. Perrin in 2001.
Among the stipulations of the donation is the agreement that Colorado Mountain College Foundation would commit that the entire net benefit of the gift “shall be used for the sole benefit of the educational, cultural and recreational need of Chaffee County in general, and the operations, programs and general academic agenda of Colorado Mountain College within Chaffee County specifically, provided that CMCF may retain up to 8 percent of such net proceeds for administrative fees.”
In other words, if CMC does come to some agreement regarding the sale of the CMC-Chaffee County Center property, the proceeds of that sale must benefit Chaffee County educationally, culturally or recreationally, and CMC as a whole would not profit from the sale, unless it was earmarked for use in Chaffee County.