photo by Teresa Benns
Center students cut the ribbon opening their brand new school.
CENTER — The long-anticipated Center Schools grand opening kicked off Saturday with a flag raising ceremony by the Center American Legion and a rendition of the national anthem by the Center Schools Band.
Saguache County Commissioner candidate and American Legion member Rock Finley then delivered a short address on the history of the American flag and the meaning of its symbolism.
He concluded his address by thanking the audience and State Sen. Gail Schwartz, who presented the flags to the school.
Superintendent George Welsh took the podium next, welcoming attendees and introducing guests.
Welsh began by telling Kristin Lortie, the Colorado Dept. of Education Capital Construction Department regional representative in attendance that without her help the school never would have gotten its BEST grant. “We couldn’t have done it without you,” Welsh said.
He also commended Rudy Andras, an investment banker at RBC Capital markets, who dispelled many rumors about the cost of the bond by showing people what exactly their changed tax burden would be.
A big congratulations went to Center School District voters who approved the bond, with Welsh commenting that he “didn’t know many communities in the state who raised the bond capital to the max to get a new school for their kids; it’s all because of you. Thank you for 16 years as your superintendent.”
Welsh went on to note that in 1997, it was illegal to build a new school in Colorado,; it could only be funded by local taxpayers at $4.7 million, only about an eighth of the cost of the school today.
Lobato v. Colorado Dept. of Education attorney Kathleen Gebhardt told the State Legislature that something was wrong with this process, prompting legislators to later pass legislation authorizing the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grants. State Senators Andrew Romanoff and Gail Schwartz then advocated for the legislation’s passage.
The BEST grants were established in 2008 with the signing of C.R.S.22-43.7. The grant provides an annual amount of funding, in the form of competitive grants, to school districts, charter schools, institute charter schools, boards of cooperative educational services and the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind.
BEST funds can be used for the construction of new schools as well as general construction and renovation of existing school facility systems and structures. School trust land money also funded Center School’s building efforts.
While the process that followed was “no slam dunk,” Welsh said, parents, students and faculty all provided input and participated in the planning process in some way, helping to win the grant award and the bond election. G. E. Johnson/Klipp contracted to build the school.
“We lost a beautiful building that served the community for a long time but we’ve gained a better future for our children here,” Welsh said, concluding his address.
Next Colorado Dept. of Education representative Ted Hughes spoke, telling the audience that “WOW — George did a good job and you stepped up to the ballot, so give yourself a hand.”
G. E. Johnson Project manager Shannon Rodgers then thanked Center residents for welcoming his firm and making the project a success. “It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to deliver what we’re delivering today,” Rodgers said. “It’s a sweet moment to see you walk into this school for the first time.”
Rodgers then awarded Supt. Welsh a G. E. Johnson scholarship for $1,000.
To conclude the ceremonies, Center School Board President Michael Lobato thanked his children for allowing him to spend all the time necessary to devote to the project and thanked the Center School Board for seeing the project through to the end.
“The old man was tired,” Lobato said. “Now we get to meet the new kid on the block. This is truly a 21st century learning facility, and it will take our students to new heights.”
Center students then lined up to cut the ribbon and a tour of the new school followed the ribbon cutting ceremony.