When Principal Scott Christy learned the school district was considering the demolition and reconstruction of Columbine High School, “I was emotionally torn,” he said.
“I don't think there's any other principal in the world who would say, `no, I don't want a new building.' But this is a place our community is very protective of,” he said.
Ultimately, though, “whatever Dr. Glass decided to do, I was on board,” he said.
Jeffco Public Schools has chosen not to rebuild the school, according to a July 24 community letter written by Superintendent Jason Glass.
The district instead plans to improve building safety by building a perimeter around the school and utilizing $15 million in bond money already approved for school renovations, including maintenance and installation of "more modern and user-friendly security equipment," Christy said.
In June, the district stated it was exploring the option as the possible solution to an ever-increasing number of unauthorized visitors on the campus in south Jefferson County. According to Glass' letter, 2,401 such individuals came to the campus in the past school year, as reported by the Colorado Sun.
Had the district moved forward with the plan, the school would have been torn down and rebuilt just to the west of where the current building stands. The $60 million to $70 million rebuild would have been funded by a tax increase, which would cost $1 to $2 per month for an average resident, Glass said.
The district planned to decide the building's fate over the summer, hoping to determine whether the funds for renovations in the current building would need to be redirected.
District leaders turned to Columbine staff members, students and families, as well as the JeffCo community, for input on the decision. Community members provided their opinions through an online survey and conversations held by the district.
Approximately 60% of community members opposed the rebuild and 40% supported it, Glass said.
“The tax increase was one reason (for opposition), and others felt the building stood as a testament against the murders and evil that took place there,” Glass said.
Those in favor of the rebuild argued that a new building could potentially be outfitted with different security features and would be less likely to attract tourists. However, the decision not to rebuild “better matches what we heard from the community,” Glass said.
He added that the decision will likely hold until the building becomes structurally unreliable, “which could be 20 years or more” down the road.
The online community survey also asked whether certain elements of the school, such as its name and school colors, should be changed. The district has chosen not to make these changes, largely because of input from Columbine staff members, Christy and Glass said.
“If we had to change our traditions, that would have been a stopping point for our staff,” Christy said. “We are a school of tradition. That was non-negotiable.”
Having chosen to preserve the building, the district has plans to improve school safety in addition to the current security improvements being funded by bond money.
Jeffco Public Schools and its design team are planning for a perimeter to be built around the campus to lower the number of trespassing incidents, Glass said. He added that the perimeter will aesthetically match the neighborhood architecture.
The district has yet to determine the cost of the project but “it will be more expensive than a lot of fences we build around other schools,” he said.
Finances for the project will be diverted from the district's capital fund, he said. “This project now rises to the top of our list.”
Construction of the perimeter will likely be incorporated into the schedule for other Columbine renovations, which will begin in the fall and take about 18 months to complete, Glass said.
Christy believes in the upcoming changes to accomplish the community's original goal of protecting students and staff, he said — not only as a principal, but as a parent, with his son planning to attend the school in 2020.
“I can't imagine a school being more secure than Columbine. I wouldn't want him to go anywhere else,” he said. “It's a special place.”
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