After a nearly two-month public survey period, Jefferson County Public Schools has decided against tearing down and rebuilding Columbine High School — the site of the 1999 school massacre that killed 12 students and one teacher.
Jeffco Public Schools had considered redesigning the campus, and resituating the school farther from the street in an attempt to curb morbid tourist fascination.
“While this concept has supporters and merits, there are also valid concerns that were raised,” the district’s superintendent, Jason Glass, wrote in a letter posted Wednesday. “It is clear to me that no consensus direction exists to rebuild the school.”
The deadly shooting, perpetrated by two Columbine students, also injured 21 people, turned the school into a household name, and spurred widespread debate over gun restrictions.
Data collected from this summer’s survey revealed that of the 6,962 responses, 57% opposed rebuilding, with some saying that it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars that could better be spent on mental health needs and increasing teacher salaries. Others contended that razing the school building would signal that the district was giving into the shooters, Glass said.
The initiative to rebuild would have required the school district to pass a ballot measure to raise more than $60 million in additional revenue by increasing property taxes the equivalent of about $2 more per month for a $500,000 home. More than 43% of survey respondents said they would “definitely vote no” on the tax increase, while 23% said they would “definitely vote yes.”
Glass said school officials weighed feedback from the survey, among other factors, such as community discussions and social media posts, to reach their decision against the rebuild.
Columbine High School tore down its old library, where many students died, right after the shooting, and built a new one, naming it the Hope Library in honor of the students killed. Still, the campus remains a tourist attraction for those fascinated by the tragedy, school officials said.
“I think what brought this all to a head was the recognition that this is not going away,” Glass told Chalkbeat in June. “In fact, it’s increasing.”
Some respondents suggested simply renaming the school, but the survey found a mixed response, and the school’s principal said that renaming the school would not be an option moving forward.
“Columbine is what we are,” the school’s principal, Scott Christy, said. “We’re a very proud school, and that’s something we’re not willing to adjust.”
Christy explained the school has staff specifically assigned to capture and alert police to any tourist who plans to trespass on the school’s property.
“Is it a burden? Yes. Does it become tiresome? Yes. But we’ve managed it for 20 years,” he said. “We’ve dealt with it and we’re going to continue to deal with it.”
While the district has decided against tearing down, rebuilding or renaming Columbine, a design advisory group — composed of students, staff and other community members — is working to devise security improvements around the school’s perimeter. The 5B Bond program, which voters approved in 2018, is funding the effort, which could include security kiosks or decorative fencing or walls.
If improvement plans go beyond the scope of what the voters approved last year, officials will tap into district capital improvement funds to complete the changes.
“I would love to have a new building, but we are really excited about adding to our existing building,” Christy said, noting that the school is already planning for new flooring and paint, and a locker room renovation.
“We are a very proud school, and we are just going to keep marching on,” he said.
On Wednesday, Principal Christy wrote the following letter to students, staff, and parents of Columbine High School:
Dear Columbine Families,
I am writing in regards to the letter you received from Dr. Glass, our Superintendent, about the proposal to rebuild our facility. First, I would like to thank Dr. Glass for bringing forth this conversation and I understand and respect the decision he made.
Second, I want to thank all of you, and the entire Columbine community, for participating in this dialogue. I feel strongly that the amount of emotion and passion that was expressed in this conversation would not have occurred with any other school. This discussion reaffirmed the love that our community has for our school, and I am so proud and thankful for that.
My primary concern from the start of this conversation was that our families would question the safety and security of our school. My hope is that you do not have this concern. As Dr. Glass stated in his letter, Columbine is arguably “one of the safest schools in the world.” The safety of our students and staff is paramount and we have an outstanding security staff and surveillance system that is top notch in keeping our school safe. After the planned improvements and safety upgrades are completed, Columbine will be even more safe.
I am thankful and excited for the $15 million that was allocated to renovating and expanding our facility. Our Design Advisory Group has put in a tremendous amount of time and thought into improvements with these funds to best meet the needs of our students, staff, and community. We will continue that work over the next six months prior to breaking ground next February. In the end, I am confident that our facility is going to be much improved, and it is going to be something we can continue to be proud of.
We are currently focused on preparing for the 2019/20 school year. I couldn’t be more excited about this upcoming school year as I know it is going to be great. You will be receiving registration information within the next couple of weeks. We can’t wait to begin working with our students.
In conclusion, as I have heard and said many times over the past couple months, it is not the building, but the people that make us what we are. You all make Columbine the BEST school on the planet. I am so thankful for our Columbine Family…Thank you for being a part of it. And, thank you for trusting me and my staff with your child. We will love them and provide them with an outstanding education and an amazing high school experience.