Buena Vista – Buena Vista School District Superintendent Lisa Yates said she was taken aback to find that Colorado Mountain College had moved out of its Buena Vista facility on CR 319.

“We moved out of that space at the end of May,” said Rachel Pokrandt, CMC Leadville campus and Chaffee County program vice president.

CMC moved out after the Buena Vista school board decided not to enter into an agreement to lease, then ultimately purchase the building, Pokrandt said.

Yates said CMC had indicated to her in conversations over the past two years that it was dissatisfied with its position on the mesa at the southwest edge of town, but “every conversation I was having with them was about their wanting a presence on Main Street.”

During an initial public conference in December between Pokrandt and the school board, when the district was first considering annexation into CMC’s taxation district, Pokrandt was asked if CMC thought the Buena Vista space was well-utilized.

“No,” she responded.

Charles Forster, one of the leaders of an initiative to raise the $1.5 million to build the Buena Vista building in 2004, said he was disappointed to see the college move out of the building, but usage of the campus “never grew to the extent that was envisioned.”

Part of that was because the funding the building could have received was limited by not being in a taxation district.

“This became a great challenge for CMC because they can’t shift monies that would shift the balance in the taxation districts,” he said.

Another college in the system couldn’t subsidize the building, because the building was not in any taxation district.

Even if Buena Vista did enter a taxation district, he said, the money CMC would receive to operate in the Buena Vista area would be limited by the revenue raised from the local mill levy. The same is true in Leadville as it is in Glenwood Springs and as it would be in Salida.

Also, Forster said, the increasing capability of providing education remotely through the internet is vastly different than it was nearly two decades ago, and the necessity of a physical space is not as great as it once was.

“I would say this: A building standing alone does not make a college, necessarily,” Forster said.

Chaffee County voters rejected entering into the college’s taxation district when the funding system based on property tax mill levies was first introduced in the 1960s, Forster said.

Before the project to build the Buena Vista CMC branch began in the late ’90s, CMC’s presence in Chaffee County was split across 17 locations, including at one point the Orpheum Theater.

Five of the classes that were offered at CMC’s Buena Vista campus are still held in BV at Buena Vista High School, and two of its teachers are accredited to teach college classes.

Yates said she is unsure about the future of the college’s involvement in the area.

The Salida School District will put the annexation question on the November ballot, paving the way for a school facility to be built in Salida and placing Buena Vista midway between two CMC campuses at either end of the Upper Arkansas Valley.

The school district may be impacted by CMC’s move to Salida as students may be less likely to drive half an hour south to take dual-enrollment classes through the college.

Yates said that public speaking, a popular dual-enrollment class offered at CMC that could always be counted on to fill up quickly, is now offered in Salida, and enrollment among BV students has declined as a result.

“Because we are in the CMC service area, they are our two-year dual-enrollment provider,” Yates said. That means the district would not be able to offer classes through a different two-year school, although it would be possible to work with a four-year school.

A bill passed into law during the 2019 session of the Colorado General Assembly will require schools to offer concurrent enrollment opportunities beginning in the 2020-2021 school year.

Yates said that in late May she visited the CMC building with school staff and was surprised to find it empty.

“Never did I expect that they would leave after the annexation happened,” Yates said. “That has all been surprisingly fast.”

Pokrandt said, “We don’t really have a plan right now” for what to do with the building.

Yates said she had hoped that Salida would wait to request annexation until 2021 so that both Chaffee County’s school districts could make the move together.

A local group of advocates for bringing BV into CMC’s taxation district and the Buena Vista school board elected not to pursue annexation in 2019.

Both did not want to bring forward another large levy on property taxes in the district so soon after its multimillion-dollar request to finance the district’s new middle and high school buildings under construction now.

Dave Blazer, spokesman for the pro-annexation group of business owners, said in March that there was no urgency in putting annexation on the ballot this year.

The question must be put on the ballot in odd-numbered years, meaning that BV voters won’t see the question until at least 2021.

A plan for the school district to lease the building from CMC with the intent of ultimately purchasing it as an expansion of Avery-Parsons Elementary School’s preschool space was turned down by the school board earlier this year, when the costs associated with both the rent and purchase of the building were far higher than expected, Yates said.

Although presented as a zero-dollar lease, the district found it would be expected to pay utilities on the building amounting to thousands of dollars a month.

In addition, the building would require extensive renovation to suit the district’s needs as a preschool, and the ultimate purchase price of the building was far higher than anticipated, Yates said.

Forster said he suspects CMC will not return to hosting classes in the building on CR 319. A stipulation of its construction on land donated by Ronald Southard and Carole Perrin requires that dollars from the sale of the building go to the betterment of services for citizens of Chaffee County.

“A lot of people opened their billfolds for that building,” Forster said. “I’ve always tried to carry a positive perspective … I think that building will be used in a positive way.”

The Chaffee County Times in Buena Vista is published by Arkansas Valley Publishing Co., the parent company of The Mountain Mail.

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