For years, the Rocky Mountain Deaf School has been working towards developing a new facility. The public charter school currently uses a space in a strip mall in Golden. The school has had a number of maintenance problems, including a leaky and a small electrical fire.
The school secured a $13 million grant through a state program called BEST, Building Excellent Schools Today. With the money, the deaf school made plans to purchase the parcel of land at 2090 Wright Street from the Jefferson County School District.
That's when the trouble began.
"Our argument is that there is a significant land ownership issue here," neighbor Bill Marcoux said.
Marcoux is part of group of residents calling themselves the 2090 Coalition. Marcoux says that in 1973, land developers and the City of Lakewood made a planned development agreement. The developer would offer the land to Jeffco Schools to build an elementary school. But, Marcoux says, the agreement stated that if a school was not built in eight years, the property would revert to the City of Lakewood.
The land sits adjacent to actual open space property.
"Eight years later [in 1981], there is no school site here, and it was assumed that this was in fact open space for the citizens of Lakewood," Marcoux said.
The City of Lakewood disagrees. City records show that the developer went ahead and gave the land to Jeffco Schools in 1977.
"The school district has owned and maintained the land for 35 years," Lakewood Mayor Bob Murphy said. "So, the issue of ownership is clear. It is not park land. It is not dedicated open space."
That's why the city approved a re-zoning request to change the land from just having an elementary school to having a high school. The Rocky Mountain Deaf School wants to build a 46,000 square-foot facility for grades K-12, with a cap of around 100 students.
The 2090 Coalition plans to take that matter to court. It is also fighting the re-zoning request by pushing for a special election on the matter. Residents had until August 10 to gather about 3,000 signatures from voters. The group turned in about 8,400 signatures from Lakewood voters.
"The Lakewood citizens spoke loudly on this," Marcoux said. "We do value our open space and we are against the re-zoning of this property."
If at least 2,963 signatures are validated, then the city council must review the re-zoning request and either reverse its initial decision of approval or put the matter to a full vote of the people.
If the vote occurs, it would likely be during a special election in December.
"The last time we had one of these, it was $200,000 to $230,000 for a special election," Murphy said.
Nancy Bridenbaugh is the director of the Rocky Mountain Deaf School. She is worried that people were misled into signing the petitions.
"That property is not open space and it never will be open space," Bridenbaugh said. "We may really need to get the word out that this is not open space and it is not a tax. These are the two main reasons that residents signed the petition."
If the school cannot start the building process by November 7, then it risks losing the $13 million grant. If that happens, Bridenbaugh it would be basically impossible for the school to move to a new facility.
"This issue is not about the deaf school in of itself," said Marcoux. "This is about this piece of property."
Now, the Rocky Mountain Deaf School is preparing for what may essentially be a political campaign. Bridenbaugh says the school is receiving support from deaf communities from around the country.
"We're not going to give up our hope of building a new school for these children, for these deaf children," Bridenbaugh said.
(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)