The Jefferson County school board listens to comments by parents and others prior to the board's vote to close 16 elementary schools in the district due to a budget deficit attributed to declining enrollment on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022 in Golden, Colo.. The district estimates the closing will save $12 million. (Joe Mahoney, Special to the Colorado Sun)

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Jeffco Public Schools is beginning work on up to $32 million of projects to prepare buildings to receive as many as 2,600 displaced students from 16 schools closing.

The more than a dozen projects planned include renovating buildings to accommodate preschoolers and students with disabilities or adding more space for the increase in students.

The price tag is equivalent to about 2 1/2 years of savings from closing the under-enrolled elementary schools at the end of the school year. Most of the work is expected to be completed this summer.

Last week, school board members expressed shock at hearing the $32 million price tag, and Thursday decided they might downsize some of the larger projects once they have more accurate enrollment projections for the next school year.

The district assured the school board that it expects to be able to cover the cost of those projects with $12 million the board had already agreed to set aside from bond money for such work, and with the savings of about $17 million in bond projects that will no longer happen at schools that are closing. The district also expects the projects to likely come in under the estimated $32 million, which includes conservative contingency costs. 

District leaders told the board that the project costs are onetime expenditures, and that the district will still see ongoing savings from closing those 16 schools.

“The consolidation decisions that this board had the courage to make are ongoing and cumulative savings that we will be able to eventually, once we get things settled with the budget, apply to our kids’ extraordinary experiences,” superintendent Tracy Dorland told the board at last week’s board meeting. 

The district expects to save $12 million in operating expenses every year after those 16 schools close.

“This decision pays for itself and then some,” chief financial officer Brenna Copeland said.

The school board Thursday night considered pausing some of the work due to the cost and uncertainty about the need, but decided that it didn’t want to risk not having enough space for students when school starts next fall.

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Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat

Reporter — Chalkbeat Colorado Email: yrobles@chalkbeat.org