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$1.7 million project will transform Wasson High to hub for eight programs

May 24, 2013 Updated: May 24, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Wasson High School closed on Thursday as the traditional campus it's been for 54 years. Next week, the property will start morphing into its second life as the hub for eight Colorado Springs School District 11 alternative education programs.

"Many people think the school is closing and being boarded up, but that is absolutely not true," said Glenn Gustafson, D-11's chief financial officer.

Instead, work starts Wednesday to remove equipment that won't be needed for what will become the Roy J. Wasson Academic Campus and reconfigure some of the building's 251,236 square feet for new occupants.

The eight D-11 entities that will be housed on the property beginning in mid-August are:

- The Digital High School, which gives juniors and seniors the opportunity to recover lost credits and receive a diploma; ?

- Achieve 6-12, a combination online school and home school support program;

?- Adult and Family Education, which offers classes for students 17 years and older;

?- The Bijou School, a self-paced alternative high school;

?- Nueva Ventura, for students with special emotional and physical needs

?- Nikola Tesla Equal Opportunity Center, an alternative middle and high school;

?- Springs Community Night School, for 17- to 21-year-olds who want to earn their high school diploma in afternoon and evening hours, and

?- Early Colleges, a new program that will enable students from Doherty, Mitchell, Palmer and Coronado high schools to earn associates degrees for free, while at the same time earning high school diplomas. Technical instruction in automotive repair, health care, hospitality and tourism also will be offered on site.

The programs will retain their individuality after being consolidated at the Wasson property, at 2115 Afton Way, said Val Baughman, D-11's construction manager.

The building will be modified to give programs their own space but they will share common areas, such as the cafeteria and athletic facilities, he said.

Coronado High School's principal, David Engstrom, has been reassigned to head the new campus. Closing Wasson and two elementary schools, and relocating the alternative programs, is part of D-11's "Optimization of Utilization Plan," intended to reduce costs in building operations, overhead, maintenance and staff by a total of $2.3 million annually, Gustafson said.

Adds Baughman, "We're trying to provide greater opportunities for our students within limited budgets. We've been strapped for funding for a long time, and our goal with this effort is to utilize our resources in the best way we can to improve instructional opportunities and best serve our students and the community."

General contractor Nunn Construction will redesign office space for new leadership, divide large classrooms to accommodate smaller class sizes and build a child care center for children of students enrolled in some of the programs.

The popular Garry Berry Stadium, along with other athletic facilities, and the performing arts areas - the auditorium, stage, dance theater, black box theater and band and choir rooms - will remain intact and be available for other D-11 schools to use, Baughman said.

Renovations are expected to be completed Aug. 2.

"Wasson will be open for business on the first day of school with more students than ever before, as an educational center," Gustafson said.

The district projects 2,100 students, including adults, will attend programs over a 14-hour day at the new Wasson campus, he added. In recent years, enrollment in Wasson as a high school had dwindled to fewer than 900 students.

The estimated cost of construction is $1.7 million, Baughman said, and will be paid for through the anticipated annual savings of the consolidation on the Wasson campus. That figure is $1.4 million per year, according to Gustafson. The district also is selling surplus equipment, through an online auction, which Baughman said has raised about $20,000 so far. Leftover items will be sold at a live auction, tentatively set for June 27 at Wasson, he said. A partnership with Discover Goodwill also will help the district recycle materials.

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