Buena Vista battling declining enrollment, aging facilities (15311)

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Principal Jade Amick stands in front of the 1911 cottage No. 2 at Buena Vista Elementary.

Buena Vista Elementary opened its doors during the fall of 1911, and The Gazette described the building in glowing terms:
“The latest and most up-to-date addition to the already large school system of Colorado Springs is the Buena Vista school, built on the cottage or unit plan at an approximate cost of $36,000. The plant, consisting of six buildings, occupies the entire 1600 block on Park Avenue (now Bijou Street), West Colorado Springs.
“The main building, which is the central one of the five shown in the group, contains the auditorium, the office of the principal, the library and rooms in the basement. The woodwork is all of hardwood, finished in the mission style, while the floors are polished hardwood. The building is wired for electric lights, and the brass fixtures, which follow the decoration scheme of mission style, have not been used sparingly.
“The auditorium is to be used for educational lectures, parents’ meetings, entertainments and social events. The seating capacity is estimated at 500, although more could be accommodated if necessary. Auditoriums are practically unheard of in grammar schools and this is one of the finest of its kind in the country. Nothing has been spared to make it as attractive as possible, and the board expects and urges the people of this school district to make use of it.”
The same buildings are in use today, 96 years later.
Buena Vista is situated on a city block, whose area is 2.9 acres. Only a small portion of the campus is landscaped; the rest consists of a gravel parking lot and a large gravel playground. The sidewalk medians south of the school are planted with irrigated turf grass, but those to the east, west and north are untended and weedy.
The four school buildings, which include two portable classrooms, total 34,111 square feet.
Buena Vista has 15 full-time and two part-time teachers, seven paraprofessionals, one administrator, five other professionals and six support personnel. One-third of all employees are part-time.
Buena Vista’s revenue is derived from state funding, which is based on student numbers, and from local property tax receipts. In School District 11, where Buena Vista is located, per pupil revenue during 2006 amounted to $8,136,
For the 2004-05 school year, Buena Vista’s student count was 163, which produced total revenue of $1.174 million. Expenses totaled $1.494 million, resulting in a $319,000 shortfall.
Because the cost of staffing and operating the school is relatively inelastic, Buena Vista needed to close the revenue/expenditure gap by enrolling more pupils. Given its location, the school could only thrive by attracting children from other neighborhoods.
But Buena Vista’s problems were hardly unique.
Other neighborhood elementary schools on the west side also were plagued by declining enrollment; aging, economically inefficient facilities and small campuses.
“All of these schools — Buena Vista, Washington, Whittier — had the same problems, and the most efficient thing to do would have been to close them all, and build a new, larger school to serve the entire area,” said Glenn Gustafson, D-11’s chief financial officer. “But when a neighborhood task force looked at the problem, they suggested creating magnet schools, which would draw new kids and preserve the neighborhood schools.”
Three years ago, Buena Vista made the choice to convert to the Montessori method of instruction, becoming the first public Montessori school in Colorado Springs.
The strategy has had some success.
Enrollment for the 2006-07 school year increased to 182, and this year’s student count, including preschool, is 215.
Jade Amick, who became Buena Vista’s principal this year, is optimistic about the future.
“I’m the first principal here who comes from a Montessori background, and that’s important, both for instruction and for marketing the school,” she said. “We know that we need to increase our PPR (per pupil revenue), and we need to be innovative and create partnerships with the community.”
Amick is particularly excited about a partnership with Colorado College and Venetucci farms.
“We’re building a greenhouse on the school grounds, and it’ll be both a learning experience for the kids and, potentially, an education in economics,” she said. “We hope to be able to sell our produce in the farmer’s market this spring.”
And to introduce Montessori to the neighborhood, Amick plans to occasionally bring a Montessori classroom to King Sooper’s.
“It should be interesting for folks to see what we do, and to realize that they don’t have to come to the school to learn about us,” Amick said.
John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com