From north to south, new schools are taking shape along Colorado Springs' rapidly growing eastern corridor, all a result of voter-approved financing.
Not too long ago, an antelope herd inhabited an 84-acre chunk of land where Research Parkway dead-ends in the Wolf Ranch neighborhood in northern Colorado Springs.
Now, a new elementary school, Legacy Peak, is half completed on 17 acres of the property, with a middle school and a high school envisioned down the road.
"In May, this was nothing but a field," said Jonathan Johnson, principal of Legacy Peak Elementary, slated to open for the fall semester.
It's the first new school for Academy School District 20 since 2007, when Chinook Trail and Ranch Creek elementary schools opened in the same northeastern quadrant.
"Those are busting at the seams now," said D-20 spokeswoman Allison Cortez.
The $32 million Legacy Peak is being funded by a $230 million bond authorization voters agreed to in the November 2016 election.
Twenty miles to the south, where Fontaine Boulevard ends just past Marksheffel Road in the Lorson Ranch subdivision, a new school for preschoolers through eighth-grade students will break ground by late May on 25 vacant acres.
It's the first new school in 20 years for Widefield School District 3 and its first Pre-K-8 model. Preschoolers and kindergärtners will attend classes in a single-story wing, with other grades on two levels grouped in pods by grade.
The school will feature energy-efficient lighting and mechanical systems, drought-tolerant native landscaping and 21st century learning spaces with large community areas for breakout sessions. A computer science instructional model is planned, with computer coding and robotics among the offerings.
"It'll be very up-to-date - cutting edge," said Dennis Neal, D-3's chief operations officer.
The $41 million project is part of a $49.5 million bond authorization voters passed in November 2017.
Committees are forming to determine a name for the school and redraw district boundaries, said D-3 spokeswoman Samantha Briggs.
"Residents have been wanting a neighborhood school for a few years," she said, "and are looking forward to seeing their money at work."
The district recently announced that it selected Colorado Springs-based Nunn Construction as the general contractor.
Nunn also is the general contractor on Legacy Peak Elementary. And the company also will start construction in the spring on a new elementary school for Falcon School District 49. That school will be located on 13 acres on Vista del Pico Boulevard in the Banning Lewis Ranch development. It will open in the fall of 2019, as will Widefield D-3's Pre-K-8 school.
At 112,000 square feet and a capacity of up to 1,000 students, Widefield D-3's new building will be one of the largest schools in the area, said Eric Bivens, senior estimator and project manager for Nunn Construction.
Now surrounded by empty land, the school sits in the middle of the next phase of Lorson Ranch development and eventually will be central to the neighborhood, he said.
"It looks like a funny spot for a school right now, but all this will be houses one day," Bivens said, sweeping his arms to the north and south.
A reason to learn
Nunn Construction has built more than 100 schools in Colorado.
"Educational facilities have been the cornerstone of our program since we were founded in 1983," Bivens said.
What's different about school construction?
"When you finish a new school, the staff and kids are so excited," he answers.
And the projects have to be finished on time. Because as a red neon sign blinking in Nunn's construction trailer at the Legacy Peak Elementary site says: "The Kids are Coming."
Six hundred students, to be exact, when classes resume after summer break.
Johnson, Legacy Peak's principal, is hiring staff, enrollment is underway, and a parent information night will be held in the unfinished building at 6 p.m. on Feb. 8. More information is available at legacypeak.asd20.org.
Legacy Peak, for preschoolers through fifth-graders, will be the first project-based learning school in D-20.
Instead of taking English, math, science and social studies separately, students work on projects with the subjects integrated and have a voice and choice in designing them, Johnson said. Teachers weave academic standards into the process and guide the research.
"It gives a real reason to learn," he said. "It's one thing to write angles on a worksheet with a protractor and another to construct something with the right angles. It's hands-on learning."
The school's interior will include common areas for student collaboration, flexible spaces and various types of seating, from soft cushions to stand-up desks.
Other notables include "brain-friendly lights" that dim when classrooms are bright from natural light, an outdoor classroom with stone seating, a studio with a green screen for video production, and two playgrounds - one for younger kids and one for older students.
The 68,000-square-foot building features a two-story classroom wing for second through fifth graders and a one-story design for preschoolers through first grade students.
Grade levels will be grouped by quads - four classrooms with shared walls and hallway space, and areas for kids to work collectively.
The school also will be able to accommodate students with severe special needs, Johnson said.
A west-facing entrance and plenty of windows take advantage of the view of Pikes Peak. The aspen leaf logo and theme will be carried throughout the school.
"A planning team is bringing intentionality and a sense of belonging," Johnson said.
The fast-paced construction is on track for a July 15 completion, said Dustin Black, senior project manager for Nunn Construction.
A rainy July (with only two dry days that month) put workers behind schedule, but Colorado Springs' nice winter weather made up for it.
The project currently has 140 workers on site, Black said.
Also being built on the property is The Center for Modern Learning, which will consolidate programs currently housed in portable buildings. Those include a home-school academy, two online schools and a new cybersecurity training program for high school students.
Academy D-20 also has a new middle school under construction, on the Chinook Trail Elementary campus, and a new building for School in the Woods in Black Forest, an environmental program for fourth graders.
Falcon D-49 is also building a new elementary school near Falcon Middle School, which will open in this fall as well.
"It seems like we just had the groundbreaking, and now we're looking at a school," Johnson said, while gazing at the rising Legacy Peak emerging from the prairie land. "It hardly seems possible."