Summit schools implementing $70M for upgrades, new projects

District and school officials break ground on a massive expansion project at Summit High School that will include 18 new classrooms, a gym with an indoor turf field and rock-climbing wall, an expanded cafeteria and more. The district is currently pursuing or has completed projects at the high school, middle school and its elementary schools after voters passed a bond measure and mill levy in November 2016.
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Below is a list of how money received through a 2016 bond initiative is being allocated across the district.

Summit High School — $29.2 million

Summit Middle School — $20.3 million

Upper Blue Elementary — $4.4 million

Frisco Elementary — $3.3 million

Silverthorne Elementary — $3.5 million

Dillon Valley Elementary — $7.3 million

Breckenridge Elementary — $2 million

Summit Cove Elementary— $3.7 million

Transportation and other facilities — $1.6 million

Source: Summit School District

The writing is on the wall across Summit County’s third-grade classrooms, and the need for two massive school-expansion projects currently underway here can best be explained by the numbers.

Altogether, the Summit School District serves about 3,500 students, and Summit High School houses about 926 of them. It’s not a huge problem for the high school right now, according to the principal and other district officials, because the school was built to hold about 1,000 kids.

However, based on the number of pupils in third-grade classes across the district alone, those same school officials know it’s only a matter of time before the glut of young students moves up.

When they do, the middle school and high school will run over capacity, or as district spokeswoman Julie McCluskie puts it, it’s only a matter of time until “they’re busting at the seams.”

Furthermore, none of this accounts for anticipated population growth within the county, which is conservatively expected somewhere in the range of an addition 2-3 percent year over year, according to Kara Drake, the district’s business director.

Lucky for the district, however, voters responded to school officials’ calls to alleviate the looming problem of overcrowding — in addition to other school needs — by approving two ballot measures in November 2016 that created almost $70 million for the district to pursue a plethora of projects.

Not all of those efforts are as eye-popping as a brand-new, indoor turf-field gymnasium with a rock-climbing wall — like what the high school’s going to get — but many of these improvements are now coming to fruition. Others are in progress, and at this point, voters can get a pretty good idea of what they’ve bought.

For the money

The mill levy raises about $1.8 million to cover regular maintenance and upkeep of district buildings. Proceeds also will be used for improvements to instructional technology infrastructure and new vestibules, or entry points, at the schools.

At the same time, the bond measure generated almost $70 million to pay for critical repairs and upgrades to existing school facilities, such as leaky roofs, updated heating, electrical and plumbing systems and other high-priority building needs.

Funding will also be used to improve the schools’ accessibility for people with disabilities, while refining safety, security and emergency-response systems and adding or upgrading media centers in each school, in addition to addressing the looming problem of overcrowding in the higher-grade levels.

Altogether, the district has budgeted almost $76 million for construction work and various projects across the district. The high school gets the Tiger’s share of that money with $29 million — almost 40 percent — budgeted for a massive expansion project there.

Another $20 million is being used to pay for a large-scale expansion of the middle school, and each elementary school is scheduled to receive between $2 million and $5 million worth of upgrades. The exception is Dillon Valley Elementary, which is getting $7.3 million.

The money allocated to each building varies based on the projects and deficiencies at each school, Drake said.

In comparison to the almost $76 million worth of projects in the pipeline, the district spends about $35 million a year on operational costs, meaning the new money is about the same amount it would take to run all the schools for two full years.

More important, Drake added, is that the district wouldn’t have been able to pursue most of this work — especially the middle and high school expansions — without this money.

“We just are really excited for these projects, and we’re thankful we have such a supportive community,” she said. “We don’t get that without a really supportive community.”

21st Century Learning starts early

The district cut ribbons the first week of October on 21st Century Learning Centers at three elementary schools — Frisco, Silverthorne and Upper Blue — and is in the design phase for three more at Summit Cove, Dillon Valley and Breckenridge elementaries.

Separate ribbon-cutting ceremonies were held at the three schools, and the events featured several keynote speakers, including Silverthorne Mayor Bruce Butler at one and Breckenridge Mayor Eric Mamula at another.

Summit’s 21st Learning Centers come in the same vein as others popping up across the U.S., where the goal is to offer students academic-enrichment opportunities and other activities designed to complement regular coursework.

The centers do this by providing a wide range of services, such as mentoring and tutoring, help with homework, access to hands-on science and technology programs, opportunities for community service, music, arts, athletics and cultural activities, according to the Colorado Department of Education.

“That’s the textbook definition,” said McCluskie, explaining that Summit’s centers are more about “authentic problem-solving and critical thinking” than they are anything else.

“We want to enrich a child’s experience in a classroom,” she said, by taking classroom instruction from “the sit-and-get model” to a more student-focused environment where children can “apply what they’re learning in a meaningful way.”

To do this, Summit County’s 21st Century Learning Centers “are almost like laboratories,” McCluskie said, with different materials, tools and opportunities for children to build and make things “inspired by their learning in subjects like math, science or the humanities.”

The centers foster small-group activities and seek to challenge young people to think creatively and put what they’ve learned in the classroom into real-world practice.

The Colorado Department of Education boasts that almost 20,000 students and 5,500 adults utilized services through 21st Century Community Learning Centers statewide in 2015-16 with an average of 188 students being served at each one.

Teacher surveys showed more than three-fourths of those students showed improved academic performance, 72 percent showed better classroom participation and 69 percent were more attentive in class. Also, more than 65 percent got better at completing homework to their teacher’s satisfaction, showed increased motivation to learn and improved in turning their homework in on time, according to CDOE.

Next summer, in addition to having ongoing projects at the high school and middle school, there will be work taking place at Summit Cove, Breckenridge and Dillon Valley elementary schools, Drake said.

“We thought we were busy this summer, and we’re going to be more busy next summer,” she predicted.

For the big kids

More classroom space is key to addressing anticipated growth in the student body, but the middle school will also see significant upgrades in its security, including a new short-term waiting area outside the front office.

The district is also working to improve the middle school’s media center, remodel its Snowy Peaks wing, add new LED lighting and controls, and create better access to the school with an improved traffic flow. Bathroom improvements and upgrades to the middle school’s HVAC and plumbing systems are also in progress, in addition to 14 new classrooms.

Other major pieces of the middle school expansion are a large cafeteria addition with two new nearby art rooms. A new media center will feature space for things like video production, and a tech lab will be right next door to a new “learning commons,” complete with laptop computer bars.

Meanwhile, the transformation taking place at the high school will be just as dramatic, if not more so.

Principal Drew Adkins said he thinks the new gymnasium with its turf-floor and large rock-climbing might be many students’ favorite addition, but he’s focused on the project as a whole and what it means for the school.

“The projection is 1,400 students, and that’s really what we see sitting in desks right now at the elementary level,” Adkins said, referring to the high number of third-graders. “A lot of people are choosing Summit as their home, and that’s awesome” but it doesn’t come without its demands.

“We are extremely excited about what the renovation brings to this high school and this campus, and how we can support our future learners coming up the pipeline,” he continued, adding that the school will have 18 new classrooms next year, including some specifically designed for subjects like art and science, along with a STEM and CAD computer lab and a bigger cafeteria.

“We’re running three lunches right now to try and fit in 926 kids,” Adkins said. “But for (the projected 1,400 that are expected in coming years), we are absolutely going to get an expanded cafeteria and outdoor learning courtyard, which is cool, and a 21st Century Commons that’s going to give kids a larger space and support the community as well.”

Altogether, the additions will bump Summit High School’s maximum capacity at 75 percent utilization from 1,092 students up to 1,466. The courtyard Adkins mentioned will be in the center of the academic classrooms and will contain an outdoor classroom space complete with landscaping, much of which will be reclaimed items from the current landscaped area at the school’s main entrance. Additionally, the new gym with its indoor turf field will also have a large area for weight training, an athletics office and a health-related classroom.

Once complete, the cafeteria addition will increase the amount of space there significantly and add a new college-style, grab-and-go café for students on the move.

A new media center located next to the STEM room and a “tech corridor” are just some of the other things going up at the school.

“I hope that people will get to stop by and look at all the cool upgrades in technology, the 18 new classrooms, science labs, brand-new PE classroom and the turf gym that’s going to double for community groups, as well as our own co-curriculum,” Adkins said. The district broke ground in September, and crews will continue working though the winter.

Both projects at the middle and high schools are expected to be complete sometime this summer, before the start of the 2018-19 school year.

“I think the biggest thing is that voters and our community stakeholders have been great recognizing the growth of Summit County, and the importance of a 21st Century education,” Adkins said. “It’s awesome to know moving forward that we’re able to put some of these great ideas into brick and mortar.”

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