This is a long time in the making. Hear both sides of the story, right here. Should the school and town work together?
May 30, 2020 "Not a Developer"
(circulated to community on behalf of La Veta Schools)
Last night, I sat quietly and listened while members of the Town Board shamed me and School
Board members for involving the School District’s legal counsel in an on-going effort to solicit
necessary information from the Town.
I heard Town representatives characterize their own behavior as patient and responsive while
asserting that they have only asked the school for anything they would require of any other
And there’s the issue, in my opinion. The School District is not “any other developer.” We’re
one of the largest employers in La Veta. We run an innovative and award winning school. We
plan to repurpose our old campus in ways that benefit the community at-large. We’re not
planning to build a sub-division - we’re constructing a pK-12 school - and contributing to the
future of La Veta.
When the need to repair our facilities began to outweigh our available funding many years ago,
we did the work to engage the community in master planning. We considered three options to
remodel, and a single option to build a new school on land owned by the District and annexed
into the Town of La Veta. We adopted a master plan and we aggressively sought funding to
implement that plan. We’ve never wavered, even in the face of massive wildfire and COVID-19.
But the District’s annexation into the Town is conditional – our use of the land and purpose for
being must be amended. We knew that from the beginning of planning. So, since the adoption
of the master plan in January 2018, the District has sought to work with the Town. In February
2018, we were given a list of requirements that presented more questions than answers. We
asked if our engineers could talk with their engineers at our expense to figure out the best ways
forward and we were told no, it wasn’t time yet.
We sought a BEST Grant to fund our master plan in 2018 and were unsuccessful, so we went
back to the drawing board. Our whole community worked together to get through the Spring
Fire and the District played a vital role. After that, our School Board bravely decided to pursue a
bond to raise matching funds that would help us get the BEST grant – thinking that a major
building project would help our local economy and that a new school building would encourage
families to come to the area. That measure passed by a 60% margin on election day, in spite of
the fact that the community was still reeling from the after effects of the fire.
After we passed the bond, we reached out to the Town again for planning and met with them in
January 2019, when we were told that they wanted to help us, but that they just couldn’t help
without a building design in place. We asked if we could pay for a joint meeting with their
engineers to get some ideas about how best to design infrastructure, and we were, again, told it
wasn’t time yet. And, we didn’t have the money to design a building at that point, so we went
and got it, hoping to see a greater sense of cooperation from the Town when we had access to
We notified the Town board when we were awarded $36 million dollars in state grant funds on
May 17, 2019. And we heard nothing. No excitement, no congratulations. No, “how can we
help?” No response at all.
In June 2019, we asked to meet with the Town about discussing how both entities might benefit
from cooperation as the Town was working to build a new sewage treatment plant and we were
working to design the school. Around the same time, I asked the Town Clerk to help with the
School’s annexation amendment petition and was told that wasn’t possible because of conflict of
We went forward with building design and eventually presented at a Town Board meeting on
December 3, 2019. There we were yelled at, and told that the Town was offended by our efforts,
and our owner’s representative was attacked for incompetence. Our submission was “grossly
inadequate.” Our board members were embarrassed and our project manager was told not to
come back to another meeting.
Still we persisted. We offered an apology. Our board and theirs met just before Christmas and
our board was told that their job is to convince Town Board members that the new school is a
good thing for our Town – that it will be an asset. We asked if our respective engineers could
jointly meet to determine water system designs that would work for the Town and the School.
We were told no, and to have our engineers design something that their engineers could assess.
We worked to do that and to get the paperwork right. We used the feedback provided and
prepared another set of documents. We were excited when the Town board agreed to meet with
us on March 10, 2020 – we hoped to talk through concerns that existed on each side. The
paperwork is comprehensive, and complex, and we thought it would benefit from collaboration.
And then we were told that the Trustees couldn’t meet with us that night because they had other
business to attend to instead.
So, it was tremendously disappointing to attend the Town’s all committee meeting on March 10,
a meeting where the Town seemed to have invited the La Veta Fire Protection District to
comment on our project without inviting us. When we showed up we weren’t invited to the table
– literally – even when it became apparent there were plenty of chairs surrounding it.
We followed up directly with members of the La Veta Fire Protection District, an organization
we respect, support and admire.
We submitted what we believed to be a substantially complete annexation amendment petition tothe Town of La Veta on March 18, 2020. Without approval, the new school doesn’t have access
to water and sewer.
In March, it was tremendously frustrating to ask three times to conduct a fire flow test and to
have the Town’s attorney get involved in the creation of the conditions that finally allowed us to
do it – nearly 45 days after the initial request. We needed the fire flow test to complete the
It was even more frustrating to hear back from the Town on April 21 that our application is not
acceptable. We did get a three-page list of items to address. As part of that response, the
Town’s water engineers determined that our water system design wasn’t right. Apparently our
engineers have prepared a system to respond to a non-existent concern, albeit one that was
shared with us at nearly every meeting that we have had with Town representatives in the past
So, we’re once again back to the drawing board, but now it’s time to start building, if we are to
move in to the new school in August 2021. We’re already considering the cost of delays.
The annexation amendment we seek could take months. It could take a year… which is why we
started talking with the Town more than two years ago. But we didn’t need an amendment to our
legal documents without a building, and we couldn’t get a building without funding. There’s a
lot of chicken-and-egg scenario happening here. It’s complicated, and it needs collaboration.
So, we planned to remodel our athletic facilities first. The current annexation amendment says
we can have athletic facilities, concession stands, restrooms, bleachers, etc. on the annexed land.
We thought we’d undertake the work that seemed allowable under the current agreement. We
built a “Phase 1,” with the building scheduled as a “Phase 2” to start after the annexation
amendment is complete. But we’re told by the Town that they consider it all one project. And
that there’s no water available. And we’re in breach of contract by moving forward. And that
any delays are our own fault.
As I see it, the problem is that La Veta School District is not “any other developer” and the Town
Board’s decision to treat us as though we are has resulted in near constant frustration on the part of the School District. I have seen nothing in the individual or collective attitudes of members of the Town Board that indicate a desire to see the new school built. In the last year, I have seen
some glimmers of grudging acceptance, but never encouragement and certainly not what might
be considered active partnership.
What I’ve seen is a Town Board quick to criticize and reluctant to provide information, even
when we offer to pay for it. At one point, we were told we couldn’t have access to the specifics
of the Town’s water system because of the Homeland Security Act that protects that information
And now, Town Board members choose to be outraged about our introduction of legal counsel
into the conversation. We all recognize it would be better without the need for attorneys. I know
time is money and I’d prefer to engage in conversation and jointly develop a new annexation
agreement. But we’ve been told to pose specific questions rather than engage in conversation,
and we’ve been refused joint meetings, and we’ve been told that proceeding with the remodel of
our track and football field is a breach of contract, even though those items are specifically
allowed in the 2000 Annexation Agreement.
I take offense at the way members of the La Veta Town Board have spoken to School Board
members. Last night, and last December. From my seat, I don’t observe a patient, responsive
approach, but a roadblock to progress hiding behind the idea that the school needs to be treated
like any other developer.
La Veta Schools are not “any other developer.” We understand that the Town Board needs to
protect and secure Town infrastructure and that the School District needs to assume the costs of
hooking on to water and sewer services. We have secured funding of $41.5 million to update our
school facilities. But for most of this process, it feels as though we’ve been treated as an
adversary rather than an ally. We want to be an ally – we seek active partnership, rather than
litigation. Now, we need the help of Town leaders, and of members of the community of La
Veta and the wider Cuchara Valley, to invest those dollars and to deliver on the promise we’ve
envisioned. For the good of the economy in this dark time, to instill hopefulness in the
immediate future, and to provide the youth of La Veta schools an excellent facility in which to
learn for years to come.
For my part, I will continue to do my very best – today and every day – to serve the La Veta
School District with pride and poise.
Bree Lessar, Superintendent
Response from Townof La Veta
(posted on Town's website)
Response to the District RE-2 Rationale for Requesting De-annexation
The RE-2 Superintendent sent an email to the La Veta School Community describing the School Board’s rationale for voting in favor of de-annexation. The rationale has little basis in fact and primarily reflects the popular misconception that the Town Board has created arbitrary annexation requirement to obstruct the construction of the new school. Over the past 2.5 years the Town Board has not made any concerted effort to publicly rebut claims of Town obstructionism by members of the District administration and staff. It is a pretty standard, albeit uninformed, response to many Town Board actions. The Town Board assumed the obstructionism charge was a minority opinion and the District was putting forth a good faith effort to satisfy Town requirements that would be levied against any developer and assemble a complete and compliant annexation agreement. It is clear from the School Board’s rationale supporting a vote in favor of de-annexation the Town Board’s decision to not refute those unfounded accusations was a mistake. In an effort to rectify that error, the Town Board is compelled to provide factual information on a few key points in order to provide the citizens of La Veta with an accurate accounting of the events and actions leading to the District’s decision to request de-annexation.
This document provides “the rest of the story” the District tends to omit from their narrative. It describes the District’s 2.5-year failed effort to produce an amended annexation agreement and provides relevant background on Floodplain, Emergency Ingress/Egress, Pedestrian Access, and Water and Sewer requirements and a short-range forecast of “what’s next”. It is a rather long but not particularly complex explanation leading to a clear conclusion: The District team including the Superintendent, School Board, project manager, owners representative, and architect/design engineers assumed a mandate entitling them to ignore Town annexation and development requirements derived directly from Federal Regulations, Colorado Revised Statutes, and La Veta Town Municipal Codes.
Development of a viable annexation agreement
The story of a long, arduous, and apparently futile endeavor. This is a tragic tale of ill-informed District leadership acting with a misplaced sense of entitlement leading to a willful ignorance of and disregard for Federal regulations, State statutes, and the Municipal Code.
It is important to understand the Town Board’s role in the annexation process. The Town Board is the steward of Town resources and responsible for maintaining the stability of services and infrastructure. For an annexation associated with a construction project, the Town Board is responsible for ensuring the costs of extending and modifying Town service and infrastructure are borne by the developer and development is executed in accordance with governing regulations, statutes, codes, and ordinances. It is imperative that the Town Board apply the same requirements and rigor to every single developer whether the project requires annexation for a school or a Walmart. It is for exactly that reason the Town Board applies established regulations, statutes, codes, and ordinances in levying annexation agreement requirements and executing the annexation process. The Town Board IS NOT responsible for ensuring development proceeds on schedule and in budget. In this case, there is an entire team responsible for executing the project – the School Board, the Superintendent, the project manager, a contracted Owner’s Representative, an architectural firm, an engineering firm/general contractor, and excavation and construction companies.
The following is a summary of the relevant key events and milestones. The main points are articulated in the bold text. For those interested in a more in-depth description, supporting detail is provided for additional clarification. The main points and supporting detail are all supported by public records contained in several inches- thick files and pages of digital documents and correspondence.
January 2017: Town and District representatives establish the requirement for an amended annexation agreement.
Representatives from both parties, including Mayor Brgoch and Superintendent Lessar, met to discuss the requirements for a revised annexation agreement. The existing agreement established in 2000 is tied to a specific use – the football field – and contained stipulations that any change of use required development and approval of an amended annexation agreement. The intent to build a new school requiring significantly increased water and sewer service constituted a change of use triggering the requirement for an amended annexation agreement.
February 2018: The Town and District establish rules of engagement and content requirements for the development of the amended annexation agreement.
District representatives met with the Town Board to discuss the amended annexation agreement and requirements levied by the applicable Colorado Revised State Statutes and La Veta Municipal Codes. The discussions and agreements are documented in a Memorandum of Meeting dated 23 February 2018 that was shared with the District and subsequently included as part of a packet specifying annexation agreement requirements and shared with the District and various representatives on several occasions over the next two years. The memo documented 20 annexation-associated actions the Town and District agreed to address. Key among those actions were:
The District responsibility to file an amendment to the current annexation agreement addressing water and sewer service requirements, highway access provisions, drainage and floodplain considerations, and other needs as defined during the process. The deliverable being a complete annexation package meeting all standards for annexation established by the State of Colorado and Town of La Veta Municipal Code.
The District’s recognition of the project’s location in a floodplain and acknowledgement that necessary permits would be required before building
The stipulation that no site work or construction would begin prior to completing all actions and addressing all requirements.
November 2019 to June 2020: The District fails in three attempts to submit a complete and compliant amended annexation agreement; ignores existing agreements and begins site preparation work; and engages an attorney to inform the Town the District has no intention of submitting an amended annexation agreement addressing floodplain, drainage, and safety issues and requirements. The Town finally has the information required to calculate water and sewer fees; realizes the only way to ensure development of a complete and compliant annexation agreement is to assume responsibility for its development and present it to the District as a final document to approve without revision. The District asks no questions and provides no comment on fees or the Towns plan of action to complete the amended annexation agreement and instead votes to request de-annexation.
In November 2019, nearly two years after initial discussions on annexation requirements, the District delivered its first annexation petition. Despite having a keenly interested Superintendent and School Board, a dedicated project manager, a contracted Owner’s Rep, and the services of an attorney; the District submitted an annexation agreement cut and pasted from a Weld County document with incomplete and erroneous information. It was evidently beyond the abilities of this august group to find and replace “Weld County” with the Town of La Veta. In March and May 2020, the District made two additional attempts to submit an amended annexation.
After each of the first two attempts the Town provided redlines to the agreement along with references to and sometimes actual copies of governing regulations. We met with District representatives to discuss issues and restate the Town’s annexation agreement requirements. At the conclusion of each meeting the District representatives indicated they understood the feedback and requirements, yet somehow the District was never able to translate that “understanding” into the submission of complete or compliant amended annexation agreement.
The District submitted their third version of the annexation agreement at 5:30 PM on 22 May – the Friday evening prior to the Memorial Day weekend with an invitation to attend the 5:30 PM School Board meeting on 26 May to address any concerns or issues with the agreement. After taking 40+ days for their paid and dedicated project staff to prepare a revision to the previously failed submission, the District generously allowed the Town Board four days, three of which coincided with a three-day holiday weekend, to review and prepare a response.
Although the third iteration finally contained information the Town was able to use to calculate water and sewer availability and fees, the District continued to ignore floodplain and drainage requirements and safety concerns. The School Board attended the 2 June 2020 Town Board meeting to discuss the third version of the annexation agreement. The District Superintendent led-off the District’s input questioning the need for an amended annexation agreement evidently forgetting the fact that the need for a revised agreement was established in 2017. One of the School Board members complained that he was blind-sided by the annexation progress and worried about the implications that might have for the construction schedule. Apparently neither the Superintendent, the project manager, nor the Owner’s Rep thought it was important to ensure School Board members were aware of and understood the State statutes prescribing the annexation process. The Town Board informed the District that we were awaiting assessments and recommendations of the Town’s water and floodplain engineers.
In April, with no regard to the stipulations of the 2000 Annexation Agreement or the agreements coming out of the February 2018 meeting, the District started site preparation and publicly demonstrated their complete indifference to fulfilling obligations under those agreements with an official groundbreaking ceremony. The Town Board took no action to halt site work based on an understanding of the schedule constraints posed by the BEST Grant and the belief the District was acting in good faith to complete an annexation agreement. It was only after reviewing the May iteration of the annexation agreement and two letters from the District’s attorney that the Town Board came to the realization there was no good faith effort on the part of the District and no intention of fulfilling annexation agreement requirements. In a last ditch effort to avoid de-annexation the Town Board decided to draft a complete and compliant amended annexation agreement containing the water and sewer fees the Town was able to calculate after the District finally provided a statement of the new school’s service requirements. The water and sewer fee amounts and the Town’s plan to present a final version of the amended annexation agreement for the District to either approve without revision or request disconnection were discussed by the Town Board at the 23 June Town Board All-Committee meeting. District representatives were in attendance, but there was no attempt by any of those representatives to ask questions or make comments regarding the water and sewer fees or the Town’s plan of action for completing the annexation agreement. Instead, the District reconvened their School Board meeting and voted to request de-annexation.
The District has failed to demonstrate compliance with La Veta Municipal Code Title 15, Chapter 15.20. Chapter 15.20 was adopted in 2014 as model code specified in Title 29, Article 20 of Colorado Revised Statutes and incorporates Federal floodplain regulations and management procedures. The Town is the Floodplain Manager for all property within the Town limits and responsible for ensuring developers adhere to established procedures and regulations to minimize private and public losses caused by flooding. The District has been aware since at least February 2018 the new school is being constructed in a flood plain. To date the District has not requested or received a Floodplain Development Permit nor submitted the required No-Rise Certification. Statements in the Superintendent’s email stating that the requirement for the No Rise Certification were not identified until after design are blatantly false. The requirements for development permitting and certifications are described in detail in the La Veta Municipal Code. Failure to comply with requirements in the Code can only indicate either a willful disregard for Municipal, State, and Federal regulations or gross incompetence on the part of the District’s development team. In response to the March submission, the Town’s floodplain engineer provided the District with a detailed explanation of the Town’s floodplain information requirements and a step-by-step description of the FEMA-specified process for satisfying those requirements.
The Town repeatedly expressed concerns with the route location requiring ingress/egress across the railroad tracks and the District’s decision to barricade and lock to prevent access except in response to an emergency. We were particularly alarmed by the District’s false claim in the second version of the amended annexation agreement that the La Veta Marshal had approved the design and the assessment from the La Veta Fire Protection District indicating firefighting equipment would be unable to negotiate the planned route. Since that time, the District provided information during conversations between the Town Board and District representatives demonstrating the route was constrained by permissions required from the railroad and a design and access procedures that were approved by State Fire officials. During those discussions, the Town indicated willingness to satisfy Town requirements with a copy of the approval from State Fire officials and an agreement indemnifying the Town against any potential future damage claims should the route and access procedures prove inadequate during an emergency. The District has provided nether of those items. The latest Town-authored version of the amended annexation agreement captures those provisions with the additional stipulation that since the emergency ingress/egress route is closed to public access, the District will retain ownership and all operations and maintenance responsibilities.
The Town rejected the District’s proposal to provide funding for Town construction of a sidewalk along Hwy 12. As the District knows, sidewalk construction is likely the least expensive part of that project. The real expense will be in acquiring easements or ownership of property along the path. In addition the time required to acquire easements or ownership and get CDOT approvals could delay sidewalk construction until after the school opens potentially putting the Town at risk for damages associated with any accidents occurring prior to sidewalk completion. Recognizing the that a sidewalk running north from Ryus Ave to the school entrance was not a practical solution for either party, the Town revised the requirement. Had the School Board reviewed the Town-authored amended annexation agreement prior to voting to request de-annexation they would have seen the following:
The Annexor shall construct a Town approved and ADA compliant 5 foot wide sidewalk from the intersection of First Street and State Highway 12 along the east side of State Highway 12, to the access street to the School property and from thence east along said access street to a point adjoining pedestrian walkways within the school development area.
Water and Sewer Fees
It is standard practice to present water and sewer fees to developers without a line-item breakdown of the calculations. This procedure is followed specifically because the fees are non-negotiable. It does not, however, mean the fees are calculated based on the whim of the Town Board. Connection, tap, and usage fees are defined La Veta Municipal Code Title13, which the District, like any developer, can review. Since the District did not present the Town with water rights to offset their water requirement, they are required to pay water acquisition costs which the Town calculated using established market water prices per acre foot and the anticipated usage. Over the last three years, the District requested an estimate of fees but did not provide the Town with usage requirements until May of this year. The Town refused to provide any definitive estimates without usage requirements but advised the District to budget a minimum of $1.5M dollars. The water and sewer fees presented to the District came in at $250,000 under the recommended budget amount.
The Town has been in the business of providing water and sewer for the citizens of La Veta for over 100 years and knows the requirements, regulations, and statutes governing producing these services as well as the numerous pitfalls to those unfamiliar with the requirements. The Town’s assessment of fees to be paid by the school reflected these requirements and such fees were calculated so that the Town could continue to provide acceptable services for all the Town now and in the future.
It appears that the School believes that they can be in the water and sewer business rather that education which means that they will have to pay for the cost of drilling a well, buy the necessary water rights to replace the well production, change that water right to commercial use in court, execute an augmentation plan, build a storage tank, build a water treatment plant, build a wastewater sewer treatment plant, pay for a water treatment operator, pay for a wastewater treatment operator and pay for all associated and sundry costs in perpetuity.
What happens next?
De-annexation is governed by State statutes. The District must submit a request to de-annex which the Town can approve or deny. The process includes prescribed actions and timelines for posting information, conducting a public hearing, and developing and implementing the course of action. Assuming that the School Board is confident in their decision to request de-annexation, pro-longing the process does not benefit either party. The Town expects a formal request to de-annex by no later than Thursday, 2 July in order for the request to be placed on the agenda for the 7 July Town Board Meeting. If the District does not submit either the request for de-annexation or notification that the District intends to proceed with the adoption of the Town-authored final amended annexation agreement, the Town will explore remedies to motivate District action. The Superintendent’s email indicates a health department-induced “willingness” to acquire sewer service for the fee stipulated in the Town-authored amended annexation agreement. Unfortunately, the annexation agreement, access to services, and associated fees are a package deal. At this time, the Town Board sees no benefits to the Town in offering extra-territorial services, particularly at the fee amounts quoted for the annexation agreement. Additionally, pairing water and sewer services is the only means the Town has to guarantee the water treatment protocols are compatible with the biological components of the wastewater treatment process. Finally, the Superintendent’s email encourages the La Veta School Community to contact the Town Board with input and concerns. Conversely, the Town Board would like the citizens of La Veta to contact the Superintendent, the project manager, and the School Board to ask why, after three years, they were unable to produce an annexation agreement addressing the same Federal Regulatory/State Statute/ Municipal Code-based requirements that every other developer would have to address. Ask them to see the cost-benefit analysis of de-annexation
De-annexation is a completely avoidable mistake. In the short-term, BEST Grant funds may be enough to cover the costs associated with initial implementation of District owned and operated water and wastewater systems. Given the extent of an undertaking of that magnitude, it is hard to imagine how the cost of de-annexation beats the proposed water and sewer fees. Implementation cost, however, is not the only concern. The longer term issue is the burden being placed on future District administrators, School Boards and District residents who will either have to fund operations, maintenance, and eventual system replacement costs; or find a way to cover the cost of reversing this decision and retrofitting the school to access Town services.