Chinook Trail Middle School is not your father’s school. It’s not your sibling’s, either.
The $47.5 million building, undergoing finishing touches before classes start Aug. 15, is a complete custom design with the latest innovations in school construction. It's opening Tuesday, Aug. 13, with a 2:30 p.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“This is 100 percent original,” Academy School District 20 spokeswoman Allison Cortez said during a sneak peek at the project, which is being funded by a 2016 voter-approved $230 million bond measure.
The design took more than a year to complete, Cortez said. Architects RTA and MOA worked with an advisory group to create the layout and features. Bryan Construction is the general contractor.
Ideas were collected from staff, parents and more than 100 sixth- through eighth-graders who will attend the school in the Cordera neighborhood in northeast Colorado Springs.
Teens wanted a coffee shop feel in the library, so that’s what they’re getting. Comfortable soft seating, such as vinyl sectionals, was requested and delivered.
Cases that hold books are on wheels and movable.
Flexibility of space is a prominent feature of the two-story building, said Principal Tom Andrew, who’s entering his 21st year with D-20, most recently as principal at High Plains Elementary School.
“We’re encouraging a lot of voice and choice for students on how they’ll learn,” he said.
Learning pods, with four core-subject classrooms that jut out from a common center, have three heights of seating. They range from barstools bellying up to high tables to low tables with wiggly stools and ergonomically correct chairs. Garage-style doors can be pulled shut to isolate classrooms, if needed.
There are three learning pods per grade. The style is new for D-20, Andrew said.
The cafeteria tables fold up and away to make room for stadium seating for 360 when the lunchroom is used as an auditorium. Band, orchestra, drama and choir students will perform there.
The concept sheds the old with new names for familiar places. The “Welcome Center” is the secured area where visitors check-in. The Welcome Commons is the open area after entering the school.
The library is known as the “Curiosity Center,” and the cafeteria/auditorium is called the “Connections Café.”
“We’re reframing the community experience,” Andrew said, “and making the school a part of it.”
The look and feel go hand-in-hand with the project-based learning style, he said.
This is D-20’s second project-based learning school, which means students work together on hands-on assignments. Core subjects often are combined, such as incorporating reading and writing skills into history lessons. The other school to use the teaching style is Legacy Peak Elementary School, which opened last fall and is a feeder for the new middle school.
To accommodate guest speakers from the community who have expertise in a subject that students are studying, there are “learning stairs,” vertical seating for 120 students with nine 55-inch monitors on the front wall.
“To do project-based learning the right way, you bring in experts in the field and allow them to present their knowledge and information to students, and students share what they’ve learned and outcomes to peers,” Andrew said. “It makes learning more relevant and applicable to the real world. It gives meaning.”
Another building element is bringing the outside in with 64 solar tubes that provide natural light but can be dimmed like electric lights.
Open spaces inside, aspen tree graphics on walls, a stained concrete floor with an earthy feel and even the mascot, the owl, also speak of nature. And students can eat lunch, take a break or socialize in outdoors plazas and courtyards .
A wellness center will emphasize social, emotional and physical health. Yoga, a mindfulness program and obstacle course training will be part of the health and physical education program for all students.
“It’s just a different way of engaging students from what we’ve learned over time,” Andrew said. “We want to expose students to a variety of activities and exercises.”
Construction on the school started in March 2018, but the expansion has been intended since the early 2000s, said Superintendent Tom Gregory.
After voters approved a 2001 bond measure that built Chinook Trail Elementary School to the west, the developer dedicated the land for a future middle school, he said.
The school can accommodate 1,080 students and will open in a few weeks with 520 students enrolled, Andrew said.
“We want this to be a hub for the community,” he said. “Creating a fresh, innovative school has been a phenomenal adventure that’s just beginning.”
Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.