I was horrified by the events of April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School. I’ve followed the school’s progress and incredible community ever since as it used that terrible event to teach lessons that benefited the entire nation.
I was honored to host a panel at the Denver Film Festival about the extraordinary documentary, “We Are Columbine,” directed and produced by Laura Farber, who was a freshman at the time of the attack. That discussion resulted in a television series: “Columbine: 20 Years Later.”
The panel also featured the fantastic Frank DeAngelis, the former Columbine High School principal and attack survivor; Rebecca Wilson Kase, a psychotherapist and trauma expert; Rick Kaufman, the former Jeffco Public Schools Crisis Response Team leader who has helped schools across the nation, and Kiki Leyba, an amazing teacher and survivor who continues teaching at Columbine and who has helped thousands by sharing personal details most of us would hide.
So, I took great interest when proposals surfaced to tear down the existing Columbine High School and build a new one in its place at a cost that could exceed $70 million.
The argument, as posed by Jeffco Public Schools Superintendent Jason Glass, is Columbine has become a bizarre obsession for thousands of individuals and that, by tearing down the existing building — which Glass admits is “one of the safest in the world” — this somehow would solve the problem of people being infatuated with the school.
Glass states “there are no ‘right’ answers because each of the possible paths (e.g., keeping the existing school or tearing it down and building a new one) offers positives and negatives. And Glass knows many people — out of sensitivity and concern for the Columbine community — would be hesitant to argue against any plan to “help,” even if it doesn’t make sense.
In this case, there actually is a “right” and rather obvious answer — do not waste such a large amount of money replacing a perfectly functional building unless you can show it actually will have the desired results. In this case that would be the elimination — or at least severe reduction in the number — of unwanted visitors to Columbine.
Unless the school district has some hard evidence that constructing a new building, while keeping the name “Columbine,” would eliminate or greatly reduce the bizarre interest an infinitesimal portion of the population has in Columbine, it makes no sense to proceed based on a guess or whimsy.
What likely would be most effective would be to change the school’s name but few can imagine doing that. And I can’t believe anyone in the Columbine community would support such a move, even if it were likely to be effective.
Those who want to tear down the existing school and simply replace it with the same name — “Columbine” — fail to realize the obsession of those persons who fantasize or otherwise are obsessed with Columbine aren’t infatuated with the building; rather, they are fixated on the murder of 12 students and a teacher by two students there 20 years ago. Certainly, the building is a symbol of what happened, but it is “Columbine” upon which the obsessions are based.
The events of 1999 cannot be altered. It is difficult to believe changing bricks and mortar will significantly affect those who are senselessly captivated by the massacre.
Columbine’s staff and the Jeffco School District have done a tremendous job making the high school extraordinarily secure — both physically and emotionally — thanks to the school’s remarkable leadership for more than two decades. With $15 million available right now from a prior bond issue for upgrades already planned for Columbine, there is no need to ask taxpayers for an additional $60 million. Columbine can do a lot with $15 million, including any additional memorials it wishes to have.
If the Jeffco School District has $70 million to spend, invest it at 5% a year and use the $3.5 million generated annually in perpetuity to address the mental health needs of students in the district. That would be a far better use of the money.
Sometimes decisions aren’t as complex or as difficult as public officials claim. In this case, the answer is obvious: Do not raise taxes to tear down a perfectly good building, especially if the new building does nothing to address the obsession a tiny group of people have with Columbine.
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