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Through the ... roof 

Local school administrators relish an infusion of state trust money

It's been a few years since a student fell through the floor of one of Miami-Yoder School District's modular classrooms.

OK, superintendent Rick Walter clarifies, it was just the legs of a chair that dropped through the modular's rotten floor boards, but it turned into a story that impacted former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff when he toured some of the state's dilapidated school buildings in 2007.

And now, thanks to a school-funding program Romanoff helped craft, Walter can look forward to closing that and three other modulars being used in his eastern El Paso County school district. Miami-Yoder, which serves the rural communities of Rush, Yoder and Truckton, is slated to get $17 million early next year from the Building Excellent Schools Today program, in time to open 11 new classrooms and a cafeteria sometime in fall 2010.

The goal of the program was to make schools safer, but there are other benefits.

"It will allow our kids to have some things kids at other schools have always had," Walter says. "Like pride in their school."

The 2008 legislation was designed to provide $500 million over five years for school upgrades by tapping into revenue generated by the state's school trust fund. State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, who worked with Romanoff on the legislation, talked in mid-August about how $87 million in financing for the first five projects — four new schools and a renovation, all in south-central Colorado's San Luis Valley — would be achieved using money from the trust fund and zero-percent financing from federal stimulus money.

"Miracles can happen," Kennedy said during a recent visit to the Independent office.

On Aug. 13, the state Board of Education approved the next round of projects to be funded in the 2009-10 fiscal year, including 43 that will receive cash grants and 12 that will be financed, like the first five, using certificates of participation. Totaling $112 million, this round of projects will likely be the last to move forward in time to make use of the zero-percent financing from the stimulus package.

Though the BEST act was originally described as a way to improve or replace schools in cash-strapped rural counties, some of the cash grants are going to Colorado Springs schools, including $480,000 to upgrade fire systems in District 11 and $1.2 million to help the Classical Academy in Academy School District 20 complete its new east campus.

The larger projects that will receive financing include a $10.6 million renovation at the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind, $3.2 million toward a $13.6 million new elementary school in Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8, and the expanded building in the Miami-Yoder district.

Fountain-Fort Carson assistant superintendent Dave Roudebush says the new school, on Fort Carson, is needed to accommodate the post's growth. Until it opens next August, eight classes will be meeting in four modular buildings that were installed this summer.

Reached by phone, Romanoff says he's encouraged that the program is up and running, though he adds much still needs to be done: "We have kids going to schools that are literally dangerous for them to study in."

lane@csindy.com

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