Before any proposal to tear down and rebuild Columbine High School moves forward, the Jefferson County community would have to approve of the idea through an informal survey and subsequent public meetings, then likely agree to fund the project through a ballot question.
Jeffco Public Schools spokeswoman Tammy Schiff said the district is starting with a survey on the district’s website to gauge whether the public supports building a new Columbine High School in an effort to thwart the “morbid fascination” with the site of the 1999 massacre. That survey closes Friday.
Polls conducted online aren’t perfect, because anyone in the world can take them and it’s difficult to be sure one person didn’t participate multiple times, but the idea is to inexpensively gauge whether the community wants to proceed with the conversation, she said.
“It’s very exploratory right now,” she said.
If there appears to be interest in replacing the school, public meetings will come next. If comments at the meetings indicate the community wants to move forward, the district could start crafting a ballot question and conduct a more scientific poll to test voter support, Schiff said.
The school board would have to vote by August to put a tax question on the ballot, she said. The district estimates it could ask for $60 million to $70 million in bonds.
It isn’t clear yet if Jeffco Public Schools could reallocate $15 million from the district’s latest bond issue that was supposed to go toward a host of renovations at Columbine, including an addition, new security cameras, more secure doors and updates to the plumbing, lighting and climate control systems.
The building is about 40 years old, but the district determined it was more cost-effective to fix it than to knock it down, Schiff said. But getting rid of a magnet for people obsessed with a violent tragedy that took place 20 years ago might have a value to the community that isn’t as easy to calculate, she said.
“Before we go down that path (of renovating the school), because we’re on the runway for that, let’s find out how the community feels about ‘scrape and rebuild,’ ” she said.
There’s no consensus on whether it’s better to raze the site of a mass tragedy or reopen it.
The Newtown Public School District in Connecticut demolished Sandy Hook Elementary School, and reopened another school with the same name on a different site following the 2012 shooting. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., remains open following the 2018 shooting.
An Aurora theater where moviegoers were shot in 2012 reopened quickly after a renovation. The Pulse night club in Orlando, Fla., remains closed three years after it was attacked, and debate goes on about whether it should become a memorial.
And officials at STEM School Highlands Ranch haven’t released any information about how they will decide what to do with the building following a shooting that killed one and injured eight in May.
Jeffco Public Schools initially took a middle approach, initially closing Columbine and eventually tearing out the library where most of the killings took place, while leaving the rest of the school open.
But last week, Superintendent Jason Glass floated the idea of demolishing the building and erecting a new high school on the same property. Glass said the school remained an attraction for people with a troubling interest in the shootings, including Sol Pais, the Florida woman who set off a massive manhunt this spring before she was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Informal discussion with teachers and people in the community suggests Jeffco should keep the name and symbols of the school, Schiff said. Experts they consulted with believe people obsessed with the shooting won’t be likely to seek out a new Columbine High School, she said.
“It’s the structure and some of the history in the structure that’s an attraction,” she said.
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