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August 18, 2013
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Eagle County Charter Academy opens new $12 million building

EDWARDS – Kim Walter was wearing sensible shoes. She needed them.

She’s the Eagle County Charter Academy principal, and there are about 12 million things to do in the wild scramble to open their new building before school starts this week.

They’re going from 18,000 square feet to 43,000 square feet. The only thing not getting bigger is the student body. It’s still 346 kids in grades K-8.

“The kids and their families have been part of the transition,” Walter said.

It’s been a character-building experience. When they broke ground, Walters said it took hard work, sacrifice, persistence, patience and collaboration to get them that far. Then there’s gratitude.

“These students are excited and thankful for their home,” Walter said.

Construction began in October.

Time and timing

This could be one of the last schools built through a dedicated state grant to help build and renovate schools in rural areas, said state Sen. Gail Schwartz, who toured the school late last week.

The $1 billion bucket of BEST (Building Excellent Schools Today) money has finally run dry, but it doesn’t have to stay dry, Schwartz said.

The bucket will be refilled if Colorado voters have the very good sense to approve the marijuana taxes on the November ballot, Schwartz said.

Schwartz pushed the BEST grant bill through the state Legislature and said she has seen it work some miracles in her state Senate district, which includes Eagle County.

In one San Luis Valley community the K-12 school was a metal potato shed with a cesspool out back. It wasn’t the worst.

Another school was spending $1,000 per student per year just for heat.

BEST grants have helped pay for 20 new schools in rural parts of this region of Colorado and kept several construction companies afloat during the worst economic downturn in a lifetime.

In 2009 the Eagle County school board approved $2 million for the new charter school building. The Charter Academy raised $937,679.

State taxpayers picked up the rest of the tab with a $9,302,653 grant from the Colorado Department of Education’s BEST program.

That makes the building’s total price tag $12,240,332.

Temporary permanence

The school had been in what may be the world’s most permanent temporary buildings. It’s been in modulars since it moved to its current site after launching in a church basement in 1994.

For your money you got a state-of-the-art school.

The building is set hard up against Interstate 70, but triple thickness noise reduction glass really does keep the noise outside.

The new building features 20 classrooms, a gymnasium, cafeteria, music stage, art room, reading rooms, library, computer labs and science labs.

High efficiency lighting, mechanical systems, ventilation systems and plumbing systems are designed cut energy costs 34 percent compared to traditional systems.

The old modular setup had 20 outside entrances — tough for security. The new building has one, and it stays locked. There’s a camera, and they’ll buzz you in.

The Hawks can now have their own sports teams; they used to play with Berry Creek Middle School. The gym might be the new building’s most impressive exercise in optimism. The basketball goals in the middle school gym have breakaway rims, the kind that don’t shatter backboards when you slam dunk too hard.

The seventh- and eighth-graders are in the same hall as the first- and second-graders. Walters said it’s designed as a mentor program, the older kids helping the younger ones.

The lockers don’t have locks on them, which Walter says reflects the school’s emphasis on integrity and honesty.

And because it’s still a school populated by kids, the energy-saving light switches turn themselves off.

Pete Incitti, of Larson Incitti Architects, designed the school, and JHL Constructors built the school. JHL’s Elmer Waldschmidt and Chad Rayl helped ride herd on the project.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vail daily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Aug 18, 2013 10:46PM Published Aug 18, 2013 03:42PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.