Colorado Springs School District 11’s board of education voted unanimously on Wednesday to sell the former Whittier Elementary School building to Mountain Song Community School, which has been leasing the structure for eight years.
The charter school, which serves 403 students from kindergarten to eighth grade, will now be able to call the West Kiowa Street campus its permanent home, at a cost of $3.25 million, officials said.
The structure is the latest of several buildings sold or repurposed by the city’s oldest school district in recent years. Ivywild Elementary School, closed down in 2009 due to declining enrollment, was sold and remodeled into a brewery, pub and marketplace. Lincoln Elementary, which closed in 2014, found new life as a mixed-use commercial center in 2016. Whittier was closed in 2010, and Mountain Song opened in the former Whittier building in 2013.
“We think it’s wonderful that a historic school will remain a school,” said spokeswoman Lauren Ferrara, a Mountain Song parent.
A handful of teachers and staff members held a watch party in a Mountain Song classroom Wednesday afternoon, crossing fingers and toes as they gathered around a small laptop computer and awaited the vote.
“We were pretty confident we would get the votes,” Ferrara said. “But you never really know until it’s finalized.”
The Whittier Elementary building was constructed in 1901, according to coloradopreservation.org.
When a board member expressed a reservation about the sale, a collective groan coursed through the classroom.
“My biggest concern … is that the sale of a public taxpayer-owned building is coming up for board approval without any opportunities for citizens to weigh in with their thoughts,” said board treasurer Dr. Parth Melpakam, who suggested delaying the vote while the district elicits feedback from the community. “That is concerning to me.”
Officials said the financial conditions of the sale are optimal right now, but could change in the near future and potentially leave Mountain Song without a home at the end of the school year.
After weighing his concerns against the potential benefits, Melpakam voted in favor of the sale.
“I think (the sale) benefits District 11,” he said. “I will support it, with the reservations that I expressed.”
When the last “aye” vote was tallied, the classroom exploded in a torrent of cheers and applause.
“Over the past few years, we have established ourselves as a part of the community,” said Ieeda Banach, a fourth-grade teacher and former Whittier student. “I think if we moved, we would lose a lot of our enrollment. This allows us to keep our kids here.”
Mountain Song’s Executive Director, Teresa Woods, said Melpakam’s concern was a valid one, and that she had hoped to get the issue on the agenda when the board convened last week.
“The board had such a full agenda, we weren’t able to get on,” Woods said. “It would have been our preference to have public input.”
Woods added that the vote needed to happen sooner rather than later in order to allow them time to find a new location if the board had elected not to sell the building.
“There are so many domino pieces that would fall if the timing of the sale didn’t work out,” Banach said. “Time was of the essence.”
Built in 1901, the Mountain Song building might not be considered modern by most standards, but it is a natural fit for the Waldorf charter school, Woods said. Waldorf schools feature a curriculum that integrates arts and practical skills with academics.
“We have a very low-tech model,” Woods said. “In our upper grades, we certainly use computers, but we don’t have ‘smart classrooms’ that are wired to be completely online. But this place is perfect for us. It allows us to do what we do best."
The school has launched a fundraising campaign, called Indy Give, with an eye toward “turning the house into a home,” Ferrara said. Planned renovations include a new playground and more dedicated space for music and agricultural arts.
District Superintendent Michael Thomas said the sale will benefit the charter school as well as the district: Mountain Song gets its permanent home, and District 11 gets $3.25 million that will help fund its Career and Technical Education programs.
The sale of the building could be finalized as early as March, Woods said.