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Grey concrete building with an empty parking lot in front
The Clear Creek School District is spending more than $25 million to renovate this former school building in Idaho Springs. The district is building a bus barn on the property and the City of Idaho Springs has asked a municipal court to stop construction so the district can follow the local land use permitting process. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

The city of Idaho Springs on Wednesday filed an injunction in the city’s municipal court demanding that the Clear Creek School District halt construction of a new bus barn, saying the district has failed to follow city rules for approving the project. 

The injunction request follows a cease and desist order the city filed with the district earlier this month. 

“Now they will have to come to court. It’s going to escalate a little bit, I’m afraid,” said Jonathan Cain, the interim community development planner and assistant city manager in Idaho Springs. “We have not been able to come to a conclusion any other way.”

Earlier this month the city ordered the district to stop construction on the planned transportation and maintenance facility on the track of a former school the district is renovating. The city said the district’s contractors did not have a license to work in the city and the district did not secure permits to dig beneath Colorado 103 to tap the main water line that delivers water to the city. 

A press release from the city announcing the legal action Wednesday afternoon said the district responded to the cease and desist saying “that it is exempt from all local zoning requirements and processes and has commenced construction.” State law does give school districts leeway when constructing schools, with the state in charge of final approvals for designs and construction. Idaho Springs argues the district still needs to go through local land use approval processes for tapping city utilities, including the city’s main water line. The district said it has obtained all needed approvals from the state.

The stop-work order and complaint filed on Wednesday follow almost a year of concern expressed by members of the county’s Citizen Accountability Team, which has been critical of the district’s spending on new construction projects. The group formed to help safeguard school district spending after Clear Creek County voters in 2021 approved $33 million in debt for the district to renovate and repair five schools and district buildings. The plan for the bus barn — with construction costs tripling from original budget estimates to more than $6.5 million — is not part of the bond spending. 

The Citizen Accountability Team has sent several letters and reports to the board of education expressing worry over ballooning construction costs. The team urged the district to find a more affordable location for the bus barn or to consider an offer by the City of Idaho Springs to share the city’s new public works facility for bus maintenance. District officials said the city’s facility cannot accommodate the district’s fleet of 14 school buses.

School board members last week were reluctant to talk with The Sun about the city’s cease and desist order, saying it was a legal issue. Superintendent Karen Quanbeck this week wrote a document — entitled “Response to Colorado Sun Article” — for members of the board of education. Quanbeck, who in June announced she was leaving her job this fall, told the board the state has jurisdiction over the bus barn project.  

“There was an initial disagreement over the jurisdictional details that have since been remedied,” reads Quanbeck’s letter, which was obtained by The Sun but not officially sent to The Sun. 

Quanbeck told board members that the district’s contractor and construction project manager said it was not unusual for a city to “have misunderstandings” regarding the state process for approving school construction, and that the cease and desist order was a result of those misunderstandings. Quanbeck suggested the cease and desist order was the result of emotional, understaffed city workers.  

“We believe The Sun should consider if the city, as our close partner, may be experiencing turnover, and perhaps city staff The Sun is quoting, may have allowed emotion to result in a premature stop work notice and led to unfortunate comments in The Sun article, prior to our resolution,” the letter reads, noting that the district “has filed for all the permits required by the State of Colorado.”

Cain said the decision to force the district to follow local zoning rules was not emotional. 

“This is what we would do with anyone who has not gone through the right processes for approval,” Cain said. “We are trying to preserve equity and local control in our community.”

Clear Creek School District Board of Education president Sandi Schuessler said in a statement sent to The Sun late Wednesday that the district was disappointed in the legal action. She called the issue “a jurisdictional misunderstanding.”

“Together, the City of Idaho Springs and the Clear Creek School District, have already resolved questions regarding licensing and permits, saving the district over $2 million in costs,” Schuessler said, noting that the school district “places priority on serving our students and keeping them safe, which means free bussing for all.”

“After a long and thoughtful process, we made the decision to build the Transportation and Maintenance Facility at the site being built on today. And while there are no easy answers and many competing interests, the highest priority is the safety of our students so they can access a free and public education.”

Members of the Citizen Accountability Team on Wednesday said they were proud of the city for standing up to the school district. 

“We have been yelling about this for more than a year and the district has totally ignored us,” said Mary Jane Loevlie, an Idaho Springs business owner and member of the Citizen Accountability Team. 

In the statement announcing the complaint filed in city court, Idaho Springs City Administrator Andrew Marsh said the city prefers to work through issues with “conversation and compromise … but the city’s attempts to work with the school district have not been successful.”

Jason Blevins lives in Eagle with his wife, two teenage girls and a dog named Gravy. He writes The Outsider, a weekly newsletter covering the outdoors industry from the inside out.

Topic expertise: Western Slope, public lands, outdoors, ski industry, mountain business, housing, interesting things

Location: Eagle, CO

Newsletter: The Outsider, the outdoors industry covered from the inside out, plus the fun side of being outdoors in our beautiful state

Education: Southwestern University


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