August 9, 2013 Updated: August 9, 2013 at 6:15 pm
Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 on Friday celebrated the opening of a new school that is part of a unique complex containing a fire station and planned health and recreation centers.
Jim Welte, who recently retired after 35 years as a teacher and principal in Fountain Fort Carson School District 8, looked around the new gymnasium with dark walnut floor inlays and told the ribbon-cutting crowd: "It's a beautiful day. It's a beautiful school."
In fact, the new school is called the Welte Education Center in his honor. He started in the district in 1979 as a special education teacher, and retired last spring. His wife, Deb, is in her 28th year as a teacher in D-8, and their son Kyle has been there seven years as teacher and coach.
Welte told the crowd he was "eternally grateful for the opportunity to serve the district," and that the school will be a "place of great opportunities" for a diverse student body.
The school will house a high school culinary arts program, and provide an alternative to traditional high school and middle school, with smaller class sizes and a structured environment where academics and attendance are emphasized.
The facility was built with a lot of multipurpose space that can be used for community programs and classes.
D-8 Superintendent Cheryl Serrano predicted: "This will be the hub of the Fountain community."
The 11-acre site at Lyckman Place in Fountain includes the new Fountain Fire Department's Fire House Number 1, and is expected to eventually include a Peak Vista Community Health Center and a YMCA.
The city of Fountain and the school district, which are adjacent to Fort Carson, have grown steadily together, fed by military families. Four of the district's schools are on the base. Enrollment is about 8,000, compared to about 6,500 five years ago.
The $8.6 million, 44,000-square-foot building was financed with federal impact funds because of the effect Fort Carson has on the school district. Because the post encompasses a lot of land in the area, D-8 doesn't have the property tax base that many districts have, said School Board President Tom Downey.
The new fire unit previously shared space with the Fountain Police Department at 212 N. Santa Fe.The city of Fountain purchased an acre of the school property.
The fire house is at the south end of the property, with access off U.S. Highway 85/87. The school is at the north end, with the proposed YMCA behind it, and Peak Vista in the middle. The energy-efficient school and fire station shared an architect, Christiansen, Reece & Partners, and contractor, Nunn Construction, to cut down on costs.
The proposed health center will be used by D-8, following a model in which Peak Vista has set up centers at schools in other districts, including Carmel Middle School in Harrison School District 2.
The school has been on the D-8 master plan for at least eight years, Serrano said. But budget concerns and a need to build other schools delayed the project.
Alyssa Kessler, an 18-year-old senior at Welte, said she's excited about the culinary classes.
"I like to cook and want to learn more," she said. "My favorite is shrimp."
Senior Cheyenne Strickland praised the new building, but had special words for the teachers. Strickland said she had been expelled at one time, and credited the teachers with turning around her attitude and academics.
"Because of them, I'm on the honor role and getting college credit," she said.
Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371 Twitter @mcgrawatgaz