Nearly a month after moving into a newly built school, Vanguard seventh-grader Keira Williams still is finding her way around.
"I'm still trying to figure out which way is quicker to get from class to class," she said, pointing to the hallway in either direction.
Right or left gets you to the same place - back where you started - in the energy-efficient, round building topped with a mushroom cap of a dome roof.
"I think it's cool," Keira declared. "I like it in here a lot better than the old school."
After weather delays and other construction issues, The Vanguard School, a K-12 charter school in Cheyenne Mountain District 12, moved 212 seventh- and eighth-grade students into its new junior high school Sept. 18.
A public ribbon-cutting ceremony will be at 4 p.m. Friday at the school, 1605 S. Corona Ave., with local dignitaries including Mayor John Suthers scheduled to attend.
"It was a massive undertaking - a Herculean effort," said Jeff Yocum, the school's director of operations. "We had wanted to open it when school started but already had an aggressive schedule with not a lot of wiggle room."
Motorists going south on Interstate 25 have watched the dome take shape over the past year.
The Vanguard logo - a distinctive "V" with a pen quill forming the right leg - recently was added, to eliminate any guesswork.
"It really does catch your eye," Yocum said. "It's a unique structure in the Colorado Springs landscape."
The $5.3 million building sits on the eastern edge of the 30-acre campus near Southgate.
Monolithic domes use 50 percent less energy for heating and cooling than a conventional building of the same size, Yocum said. Over 20 years, energy savings equal the full cost of the facility, he said. "So, in effect, it becomes free," he said. "It was one of the selling points for us."
The school spent another $500,000 on furnishings and features such as interactive Smart Boards in every classroom, full-size lockers, advanced security, and high-tech biology and chemistry labs.
Refinancing bonds to obtain significantly lower interest rates funded the project, Yocum said.
The 20,000-square-foot building has a high point of 44 feet from base to tip of the dome. Overhead fans in each of the 12 classrooms circulate the air and direct heat through the open ceilings to the top of the dome - so less air-conditioning is needed.
Assistant Principal Tamara Gallagher said she loves its circular nature and aesthetics.
"The students are spread out in an even way," she said.
The design is conducive to learning because students "feel like it's their spot," Gallagher said. "They're taking ownership and pride in it, and that affects learning."
The old middle school nearby has been repurposed into study hall space and sixth-grade classrooms.
A new roadway for vehicles and landscaping also are part of the project.
The building accommodates up to 300 students, so there's room to grow.