The Columbine Question

This article originally appeared in The Canyon Courier on June 20th, 2019.

Earlier this month, we asked an important question of the Jeffco community: should we do something different with Columbine High School?

Specifically, we put forth a preliminary proposal to rebuild a new high school west of the current site. The Hope Columbine library, which was constructed after the 1999 tragedy, would be retained, as would the Columbine High School name and traditions.

Since asking this question of the community, more questions have come forth about the proposal. One of those is why now? There are three primary reasons.

While the idea of rebuilding Columbine in some way has been around for decades, what brought it to a head was the large and growing number of threats and unauthorized persons who came to the school this year. We had 2,401 persons come onto Columbine’s grounds, a number that grew from last year which had a spike after the Parkland shooting in Florida. This compares to around 100 unauthorized persons for all of Jeffco’s other schools combined.

While the vast majority of these are persons who just have a curiosity about the site, there are others who are more aggressive, such as pulling on doors, trying to get inside the building or looking in windows. And, there are a small number who come with concerning motives, whom we hand off to law enforcement. Of course, we have to treat every single one of these as if it is a real threat and the sheer volume of them is a great deal to manage.

Second, the Sol Pais issue and the 20th anniversary of the murders at the school caused a surge of interest. It reaffirmed to school and district officials that the fascination with the school is not, even after 20 years, going away. In fact, it seems to be growing. Also, we are concerned with the growing dark-web group of individuals who continue to be obsessed with the school.

Finally, thanks to the voters approval of ballot question 5B last fall, we have $15 million to invest in remodeling and refurbishing the existing building. If we want to consider instead rebuilding Columbine completely, now is the time — before we spend money remodeling the existing building.

As this discussion has taken place in our community, valid arguments for and against the proposal have come forward.

Some argue that rebuilding the school removes a shrine of school shootings and allows us to rebuild a new school with security and privacy features that are impossible with the current 1973 building and site placement near a busy street.

Others argue that the building itself stands as a symbol of strength against school shootings, that there is a powerful sense of pride and connection with the current building, and that rebuilding the school provides no guarantees we would solve this problem.

Both of these views are right. This issue is complicated and emotional.

Ultimately, we are going to need to make a decision as a community as to what path we take. We can continue with “Plan A,” which is remodel the current building and keep protecting Columbine the way we have been. Incidentally, it can be argued that Columbine is one of the safest schools in the world. In my professional opinion, this view is valid. Or, we can decide to rebuild the school, allowing design and architectural choices that one does not have in a remodel.

I would reiterate again that neither of these paths are “wrong.” They are two different choices that will each come with consequences.

Going forward, we will continue to listen and engage the community in this discussion during the next few months. For something different to happen, there will need to be sufficient revenue to make that occur. My administration will need to recommend a change to the Board of Education, who will then need to decide to put a tax question for Columbine on the ballot, and then ultimately the voters get to decide.

I encourage everyone to think about this issue carefully and thoughtfully. There are good points on all sides of this — and we need to find the right outcome for Columbine and for Jeffco.

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