Keystone Science School breaks ground on new admin building, instructor cabins |

Keystone Science School breaks ground on new admin building, instructor cabins

Officials with Keystone Science School broke ground on a $3.9 million capital project Sunday on the school’s campus. From left are John Buhler of Breckenridge Ski Resort; Doug Sims of the Keystone Science School board; Ellen Reid, the school’s executive director; Howard Carver, chairman on the school’s capital campaign; Geoff Buchheister of Keystone Ski Resort; and Ken O’Bryan, whose company O’Bryan Partnership will be doing much of the work.
Eli Pace /

About Keystone Science school

Keystone Science School seeks to teach scientific principles and leadership skills to young people, teachers and community members through hands-on field experiences. The school offers interactive science education programs on the site of Old Keystone Village in Keystone, with a 23-acre campus serving as an outdoor laboratory and home for a broad base of diverse programing. Facilities include modern log-style dormitories, a central dining hall, an outdoor amphitheater and a state-of-the-art observatory. For more,

Funded by a $3.9 million capital campaign, Keystone Science School broke ground Sunday on a long-awaited project designed to bolster the science-minded nonprofit for years to come.

The school reportedly served more than 7,000 people in 2016, up from 2,800 in 2006. At the same time, its annual budgeted revenue has risen from $780,000 to over $2.7 million while the staff has grown from 34 to 111 workers. Despite all of that, investments in infrastructure have been flat.

Now, the fear is that rapid rate of growth will stagnate without necessary upgrades to instructor housing and more office space, causing the school to miss out on opportunities imporant to its mission of inspiring critical thinking and curiosity through science-based outdoor education.

“One tour around this place told me there was a need for facilities, so it wasn’t too hard to get involved,” said Howard Carver, chair of the school’s capital campaign committee.

The challenges facing the science school are obvious. The instructors cabins lack basic amenities, and the administrative buildings, in addition to being inefficient and expensive to maintain, are poorly located on the campus, with only a limited amount of space.

The school has embarked on the $3.9 million capital campaign to address those problems. With all but a half-million dollars already raised, school officials broke ground on the project Sunday at the school’s campus.

“This next project is a pretty momentous thing,” said Ellen Reid, the executive director, during the ceremony. “I will admit I’m nervous because it’s been something that’s been out in the future for many, many years and I’m so, so thankful that all of you have supported it.”

Referencing that support, Doug Sims, chairman of the school’s board, said that science school leaders challenged the board members to come up with $500,000 out of pocket before the campaign officially kicked off, and the response was beyond a nice surprise.

“We got $750,000 pledged by about 10 board members,” he said, adding that another $550,000 came from members of the campaign committee.

“My point is, just so you know where the leadership of the science school is, before we started calling on people to contribute to this campaign, the board and campaign committee had $1.3 million,” Sims explained.

One of the planned additions that money will pay for is The Hub, a new administrative building that will serve as the center of activity on the school’s campus. Most basically, The Hub will bring the school’s staff all together under one roof, allowing instructors to plan programs alongside the school’s marketing and development team, while also providing an added layer of security as it sits at the entrance to the school. Should the school need more space in the future, there’s an easy option to expand the building.

The new living quarters for instructors stand as another critical piece of the school’s capital campaign project. Combine the local housing crisis with Summit County’s high cost of living, and it’s not too hard to see why school leaders have struggled to attract and retain quality staff.

“If you haven’t seen the inside … there’s only one out of 10 (cabins) with running water,” Reid said before addressing a couple county officials in the audience. “County commissioners, you did not hear that.”

The new Instructors Village should ease that burden. While the cabins will look and feel like the rest of the old-timey campus, they’ll soon have modern amenities like running water and kitchenettes.

Construction on the new buildings is expected to wrap up in early 2019. According to the Keystone Science School, which was founded in 1976 by Robert W. Craig, this will be its fifth capital campaign since 1988 and fourth since 2007. In 1988, the Henry and Bighorn dams were built. The next campaign wasn’t until 2007, when the school added an observatory and yurt, along with some campus beatification efforts.

In 2010, the River Dining Hall renovation was completed, and in 2013 there was a $2.3 million campaign to buy the school’s campus and make the school an independent nonprofit organization. According to Sims, it was the largest capital campaign in Summit County at the time.

Additionally, Keystone Science School picked up a healthy boost on Sunday, courtesy of Vail Resorts’ charitable drive, EpicPromise. During the ground-breaking ceremony, Breckenridge Ski Resort chief operating officer John Buhler and Keystone Ski Resort vice president Geoff Buchheister gave the school a check written out for $50,000. The Summit Foundation and The Gates Family Foundation also made substantial contributions.

For a virtual tour of the new buildings, go to, click on the “Campaign” tab, and scroll down to “The Buildings.”

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