Aurora Public Schools awarded $16 million in BEST grants for replacing Mrachek Middle School

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AURORA | The State Board of Education awarded Aurora Public Schools more than $16 million in future grant funds Thursday, June 9, so that the district can replace Mrachek Middle School at 1955 S. Telluride St., according to the Colorado Department of Education.

The allotment comes as a part of the board’s annual disbursement of the state’s Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant dollars. In total, APS is slated to receive $16,054,888 in BEST funds, according to CDE calculations. The district could contribute an additional $24 million in matching funds to construct the new school.

Mrachek Middle School (Photo courtesy Aurora Public Schools)
Mrachek Middle School (Photo courtesy Aurora Public Schools)

Updating Mrachek has been a priority for APS since at least 2012, when members of the district’s Long Range Facility Advisory Committee toured the 36-year-old school and determined it was in need of a major overhaul, according to Amy Spatz, the district’s director of construction management and support.

However, the Mrachek project is contingent on the APS Board of Education’s upcoming decision on whether to pursue a new bond in this fall’s election and the passage of that bond measure. APS’ portion of the Mrachek funding is slated to come from a new bond, according to Spatz. If the local school board decides against asking voters for a bond, or if voters reject a potential ballot question, the BEST funding will not come through and the project will be shelved indefinitely, according to Spatz and APS spokeswoman Patti Moon.

But district officials have expressed optimism that Aurora voters will support the district’s potential bond question this November. In an April interview, APS planning coordinator Josh Hensley said that polls have estimated a possible ballot question could ask for an additional $250 to $350 million. The district’s last voter-approved bond in 2008 totaled $215 million, a large portion of which was used to fund the construction of the Vista PEAK P-20 campus. Vista PEAK Preparatory and Vista PEAK Exploratory opened in 2010.

If a possible bond is approved, Spatz said that the district could begin construction on a new school sometime this winter. Expected to take about 30 months to complete, the new school would be completed in three phases that would involve building a new structure beside the current school, tearing down the current building and eventually adding athletic fields where the current school sits, according to Spatz. She said that classes would continue to be held in the current Mrachek building while construction takes place.

Spatz said that the new Mrachek would be able to hold about 1,000 students, a number the district has identified as the ideal total for APS middle schools. Currently boasting a student population slightly under the proposed capacity, the student body of Mrachek has teetered over and under the 1,000-student threshold over the decades, according to Spatz.

She said that the new school would meet the LEED Gold standards and feature much more natural light than the current school. Built in 1975, Mrachek originally had almost no windows and operated on an open floor plan with a few moveable walls, according to Spatz. She said that the school underwent a few mechanical updates in the early 1990s to accommodate a short-lived year-round calendar system.

“As people have over the years tried to fix (Mrachek), none of the fixes have really worked,” Spatz said.

The Mrachek project received more BEST funds than any of the 31 projects approved to receive a portion of the grant money. Funded through marijuana excise taxes, the School Trust Lands and dollars generated by he Colorado Lottery, the BEST program was created in 2008 via a state law intended to help districts build and replace schools.

The APS school board will officially decide on whether to move forward with a bond question later this summer.