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'Wall-breaking' ceremony kicks off refurbishing, construction projects in Falcon district

June 6, 2017 Updated: June 6, 2017 at 5:00 pm
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Daja Jones takes a sledgehammer to a wall in her school Tuesday, June 6, 2017, at Sand Creek High School. Photo by James Wooldridge, The Gazette

The walls are coming down at Sand Creek High School, one of more than 120 refurbishing projects in Falcon School District 49 that will be paid for by a finance measure voters approved six months ago.

"We've grown in school pride every year, and having a new look to match the new attitude we're adopting is really cool," said Victoria Kim, an incoming senior and captain of the Sand Creek Scorpions' cheer squad.

At a wall-breaking - as opposed to a groundbreaking - Tuesday, D-49 officials marked $83.5 million in improvements district-wide, some of which are underway this summer.

"This is a long time in coming," said Tyson Nunn, president of Nunn Construction, the contractor on the Sand Creek renovation. "There is a lot of need in this district."

It was the fourth time in six years that D-49, one of the state's fastest-growing school districts, had asked voters to agree to funding proposals.

Nunn's company built Sand Creek High, which opened 20 years ago in August off North Carefree Circle east of Powers Boulevard.

"We're very intent on getting the most bang for the buck," Nunn said, adding that remodeling schools to ensure students learn well will positively affect the community's future.

Sixty-five percent of nearly 41,200 voters in the school district east of Colorado Springs agreed last November to keep 10.159 mills of the property tax rate that has been repaying debt on general obligation bonds and was scheduled to expire.

A type of financing called certificates of participation issued in February has yielded $83.5 million. Annual revenue will be $7.7 million, said D-49 spokesman Matt Meister, of which $1 million will be used to attract and retain effective teachers.

Building improvements, remodels and additions at three traditional high schools will ease crowding and "ensure the buildings provide equitable opportunities for students and safe and effective environments for student achievement," according to the ballot language.

What that means: "The plan balances the facilities at the three big high schools," Meister said. For example, an auxiliary gymnasium at Vista Ridge High never was built to completion. It will be soon.

Sand Creek's facelift is removing 16 classrooms to create a "makerspace," a large reconfigurable open space that can be tailored to accommodate smaller groups for hands-on learning. Large movable partitions will help form the learning areas.

It's a new trend, Nunn said.

"A lot of schools have these now," he said. "They're very flexible. It's not just your standard sit-and-get-lectured types of spaces."

In what will become the new student lounge, attendees at Tuesday's ceremony pounded with sledgehammers on a wall that's coming down.

D-49's goal of being "the best place to learn, work and lead" drives its culture and strategic and operational goals, said Brett Ridgway, chief business officer. He cites voter support as an example of how the district can accomplish that.

The $7.5 million project will include an addition to the athletic wing, with new training and weight rooms.

Upgrades to Falcon High and Vista Ridge High will start later in the summer.

Across the district, buildings are getting new paint, carpeting, tile, furniture, security-enhanced front entryways, more efficient use of spaces, updated playgrounds and other enhancements.

"Every student will benefit from these renovations," Meister said.

Two elementary schools also will be built in the growing central and northern portions of D-49, and $1 million will be spent to retain and attract teachers.

One new school near Falcon Middle School is in the final planning stages, and grading and foundation work will begin in July. The school will open in the fall of 2018.

The second new elementary school will open in the fall of 2019 in the Banning Lewis Ranch neighborhood.

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