Science school sets sights on new home | VailDaily.com
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Science school sets sights on new home

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Daily file photoFourth grader Marbeth Castillo, center, acts as lava erupting from a volcano acted out by science teacher Lara Carlson, right, and Erin-Rose Schneider, left, the coordinator of the Gore Range Natural Science School's Girls and Science program at Avon Elementary in Avon.
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AVON, Colorado ” A new campus is being planned for the Gore Range Natural Science School, which for the past 10 years has been providing environmental education for Eagle County students and visitors.

The school is hoping to raise $9 million by the fall of 2009 to build a five-building campus in Avon on land donated by the Tang family at the intersection of Buck Creek and Nottingham Road, just west of the Pizza Hut. After receiving a significant gift from Jay and Molly Precourt, the school, which has already raised $5.5 million, kicked off its fundraising campaign Thursday.

The school currently has administrative offices for its staff in Avon. If everything goes as planned, construction could start on the new campus by 2010.

“Imagine a vibrant campus full of students engaged in hands-on field research that is aligned with their existing science curriculum standards,” the school’s director, Markian Feduschak, said at Thursday’s ceremony, which was attended by more than 100 people involved in the creation of the new campus.

The school offers a wide variety of programs that teach the science behind the mountains, rivers, wildlife and snow that makes the valley unique. The more than 2,000 Eagle County students in the school’s programs study things like geology and volcanoes, alpine eco-systems, climate change, how snow forms and how to monitor river health.

Much of this study involves actually getting outdoors and hiking through the backcountry for a first-hand look.

“It’s teaching kids about their own back yard,” said Doug Dusenberry, the capital campaign director for Gore Range.

The school partners closely with the Eagle County School District and private schools to give a big boost to their science curriculums. The Gore Range teachers have the necessary expertise to take students out in the backcountry for field studies ” which is difficult for classroom teachers to plan, but can really help the kids, Dusenberry said.

“It’s difficult for teachers to find the materials, resources and times to get these kids out, so we’re offering things that are of great value to the kids,” Dusenberry said.

The school’s summer programs have grown 70 percent in the past year. But a new campus would allow every student in Eagle County to attend the school, which would then have enough space to offer more programs and hire more staff.

More than just a place for school children, the new campus could become a community center, a go-to place for anyone who wants to learn more about the environment, said Kim Langmaid, who founded the school.

If you want to learn more about pine beetles, snow, mountains, rivers, anything like that, this would be the place to go.

“I think its going to expose many thousands more people, on a deeper level, to the beautiful landscape around us,” Langmaid said. “It will be a cornerstone for our community that’s open every day year round. People can drop in for half an hour or come in for a whole day.”

Visitors had to use their imagination in touring the future site of the campus at Thursday’s ceremony. The spot where each building will be was hosted by science school staff members who connected the elements of life ” earth, water, air and fire ” to the activities that will take place inside.

The nearly five-acre campus would include a “Mountain Discovery Center,” a two-story building that would hold interactive and dynamic exhibits, a science library and administration offices and conference rooms.

At this site, Ann Stevenson, community programs director, discussed the element of earth by focusing on soil and roots. She held out a model of a root system, built from various lengths of different diameter rope, and explained the physics and biology behind root growth, comparing the system to the school’s donors.

The next building would be a multi-purpose center and “base camp” for the numerous field trips the school takes. This could be a place for speakers and banquets, but it could also accommodate a group of kids preparing to go on an overnight camping trip.

The third and fourth building would be classrooms, which could accommodate 32 students each.

The fifth building would be a residence hall for the graduate students who teach at the school. Most of the teachers at the school are earning degrees, and this would give them a place to live, study and sleep, Dusenberry said.

A silent fundraising campaign for the campus began in 2006.

Denver-area foundations who work in education are also interested in the project as a model for the way that nonprofit organizations might work to support public schools, Dusenberry said.

The Gates Family Foundation and the Daniels Fund have given significant capital grants to the project, he said.

Dusenberry said the school would like to thank all the donors who have contributed so far.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.


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