Eleven-year-old Dani Lynn Castro came to school a week early to find her classrooms and check out the brand-new features.
What she saw Friday won her approval.
“It’s cool,” she said of the new Grand Mountain School in Widefield School District 3.
“Going to a new school is so awesome — to be the first class. Wow,” said her mother, April Lynch. “I’m sure their picture will be on the wall for years to come.”
Cushy low stools and high adjustable seats, student “brain breaks” and a computer science focus distinguish the new preschool through eighth-grade campus in the Lorson Ranch development where Fontaine Boulevard dead-ends east of Marksheffel Road.
“We’re a neighborhood school, but we’re doing a few things that make us unique,” said Principal Brian Pohl.
It was a rush to unpack boxes and get everything in order for Friday’s ribbon-cutting, which drew about 300 guests to get their first peek inside.
Pohl expects up to 850 students to enroll this year, fewer than the 1,100 that can attend the two-story, 113,000-square-foot building. Older students will be on the second floor, with younger children on the ground level. A separate wing serves preschool and kindergarten pupils.
Combining preschool, elementary and middle school in one large building is cost-effective, said architect Andy Lewis of LKA Partners.
“It’s an efficient way for school districts to use limited funds and combine things like cafeterias and gymnasiums,” he said. “It affords the opportunity for little kids to interact with big kids and big kids to interact with little kids and share some things across the curriculum.”
The school gained innovation status from the Colorado Department of Education and will weave computer science and coding into all core subjects in all grades, Pohl said. Social and emotional skills also will be tied in.
In one exercise, students will form circles and use physical movement in the classroom to take “brain breaks” during their day, he said.
The $40 million project is funded by a $49.5 million bond that D-3 voters approved in 2017 to accommodate growth. It’s the first school built in the Widefield-Security area in 22 years.
The Biber family lives within sight of the 25-acre campus and has watched the 15-month construction process that converted a large dirt field.
“It’s amazing,” said Rachelle Biber, mom of 10-year-old Tristan, who will enter fifth grade Friday, the first day of classes.
She snapped a photo of Tristan in the large gymnasium that sports the Maverick mascot in center court.
Maverick can mean a person who is an independent thinker or an unbranded range animal. School leaders are using both definitions and chose the bull as the representative animal.
Rachelle and her husband, David Biber, voted for the property tax increase that’s funding Grand Mountain.
“Now we’ve got to pay for it,” David said.
“But it looks like we got our money’s worth,” Rachelle added.
The center area, where visitors arrive after entering the school, features a North Star orienteering design, as does the ceiling in the library. The area leads to the cafeteria, gym and preschool.
The library, dubbed The Curiosity Center, has movable chairs and bookshelves to transform into four classrooms or a large meeting space.
“The design features are up-to-date 2019 standards, and we have a lot of varied styles of seating and furniture, so kids aren’t just sitting in desks and rows anymore,” the principal said said.
“We’re really focused on building a great culture with the staff we’ve hired and translate that to students,” said Pohl, who oversees about 80 employees. “We want it to be a school where students can make friends for a lifetime. If they attend preschool through eighth grade with us, they’ll spend 11 years of their lives here.
“We also want them to be happy about learning.”
While Tristan and many other students are interested in the computer science focus, others, such as Dani Lynn, like the wide range of extracurricular activities for middle school students, including intramural tournaments, all sports D-3 participates in for the South Metro Athletic League, including football, as well as Spanish, music and art.
“I think they’re living the dream,” said retired D-3 kindergarten and first-grade teacher Teresa Kuhn. “They have wonderful areas for kids to work in. All our other buildings have been overcrowded. It’s a great addition to our community.”