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Fountain Valley School embarking on $22M campus makeover

September 8, 2017 Updated: September 8, 2017 at 5:33 pm
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Adam Lechnir, left, and Luke Pedersen of Pedersen Construction build one of the new faculty housing buildings Friday, Sept. 9, 2017, at Fountain Valley School of Colorado. The private boarding school is spending $22.7 million on new faculty housing, an athletic center, a maintanence building and new roads and parking lots. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

The first major expansion in a quarter century at a private day and boarding high school in Fountain will make the campus more pedestrian friendly and bolster the community feeling.

Improvements totaling $22.7 million will enhance the ability of Fountain Valley School of Colorado to fulfill its goal of providing a "rigorous, global curriculum in academics, arts, athletics and the outdoors" to "develop young adults who are courageous, open-minded, self-reliant, curious and compassionate," said William Webb, head of school.

"This is not a facility arms race," he said. "This is being done so we can better deliver our mission and programming representative of our history and unique geological location on 1,100 acres in the heart of the Rocky Mountains."

The 87-year-old campus on the prairie southeast of Colorado Springs is removing outdated buildings and constructing a new maintenance facility, a new athletic center and four new residential units for faculty who live on site.

The buildings will open in the fall of 2018 and match the Southwest-style architecture of original adobe structures on the former ranchland.

Retired headmaster Craig Larimer, who led the school from 2007 to 2013, said the improvements are something the school has wanted to do for a long time.

"They are important for the school both in terms of attracting students and also of deepening its programs," he said. "This is a school that is a transformative experience for students; it takes them as adolescents, builds their ability to be independent and think critically, and sends them out as strong individuals in the community."

Previously an all-boys campus, the coed school has earned a solid reputation as a top-notch 24/7 learning environment among independent boarding schools nationwide, Webb said.

Fall enrollment is 225 students in grades 9-12, about three-quarters of whom live on campus and 40 percent of whom receive financial aid. Tuition ranges from $28,200 to $57,625 a year, with $2.6 million awarded in need- and merit-based scholarships annually.

Changes also will limit vehicles in the "crossroads" - the center of the campus that clusters the administration building, dorms, classrooms and a student center. A design that caters to foot traffic will form a "quad" with landscaped pathways and a unified spirit.

"We're creating a student-focused living and learning space," Webb said.

After driving through the front gate, vehicles will be funneled either to a new main parking lot leading to a 1920s hacienda that serves as the admission office, advancement office and dining room and kitchen, or a road to the administration building and new athletic center.

Work started over the summer on building new roads. A groundbreaking on the athletic center will be held 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 6.

The 60,000-square-foot center will include an eight-lane swimming pool, an indoor rock climbing wall and a regulations-size basketball and volleyball court.

It will overlook the horse stables, which accommodate a herd of about 75, and athletic fields.

"This building will support the social hub of the campus," Webb said.

The current Penrose Gym, built in 1954, is woefully inadequate, Webb said.

Basketball practice times have to be staggered for girls' and boys' teams, and teachers, who also work as sports coaches and residential assistants, have to drive students after school downtown to practice rock climbing. The schools' teams have been among the top three in the state for years.

When he took over as headmaster in the fall of 2013, many people asked the same question: "Are you going to build a new gym?"

"I said, 'What's our plan?'"

Turns out, there was no plan.

So the nonprofit school embarked on developing a strategic plan, with input from faculty, staff, students, parents and board members, and started a fundraising campaign.

A 16,000-square-foot maintenance hub, which will house carpentry, plumbing, electrical, painting and transportation services, topped the list of needs, Webb said.

The projects are being done in a design-build process, which means people who will be using the spaces had a say in the design. The projects will add 75,000 square feet of space to the campus and $4 million to the school's endowment, which totals $36 million.

Four new housing units for teachers and staff, also "mindful of the integrity of original architecture," are being added. The school employs 68 faculty, about 75 percent of whom live on campus. The land features open space with hay fields that yield up to 8,000 bales of hay each year for the horses, a pond and wildlife including nesting bald eagles, bull and rattlesnakes, mule deer and foxes.

A future phase will convert the old gym to a new performing arts center.

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