School upgrades proceed smoothly
9-R construction project is on schedule and on budget

A construction crew works through a chilly Tuesday morning on an addition to Durango High School. Financed by an $84 million school bond passed in 2002, the addition will house art classes and studios./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

It sounds like a principal's Christmas list: new classrooms, new libraries, cafeterias and multi-use spaces. But with overcrowding in the schools in Durango School District 9-R, the list isn't so much about wishes as necessities. And thanks to a $84.5 million bond passed in 2002, most of the schools in the district are getting at least some of their needs met.

Fort Lewis Mesa Elementary School principal Cynthia Smart said construction at her school will help with overcrowding as well as make room for more students in the future.

"It'll help us out, because right now, when we have the school psychologist or occupational therapist here, we have to either put them on the stage or in a hallway", she said.

The addition also will create separate rooms for music and art, which currently share space, and set up a lab for 15 computers, which are now housed in the library.

The school district embarked on the construction, which can be seen at virtually every campus in the district, in response to an advisory committees identification of "severe overcrowding" at its schools.


The construction site at Park Elementary was covered with a dusting of snow Monday morning. Crews are working on an addition to the school and removing asbestos./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

However, in the last three years, student enrollment in Durango schools has leveled off. From 1990 to 2000, 9-R enrollment grew from 3,850 to 4,747, an increase of 23 percent. This year, the latest information available has the student population at 4,739, a slight decrease from the 2002-03 enrollment of 4,758.

"We had a smaller number moving in than moving out", said Deborah Uroda, director of public information for 9-R. "People who didn't return said they just couldn't live here. They changed jobs or couldnt afford it."

Still, the district reports that the general trend has been an increase in student numbers, and those numbers are only expected to grow over the next 10 years. According to 9-R, student enrollment is expected to increase 1 percent each year for the next 10 years.

The construction addresses overcrowding for the last 10 years plus growth of 10 percent over the next 10 years, which is about as far out as you can plan, Uroda said.


An update on work at area schools

In November 2002, local voters approved an $84.5 million bond issue to make upgrades to area schools.

Some of the recent construction includes:

  • A new basketball court at Animas Valley Elementary
  • Mechanical, electrical and fire-protection systems at Florida Mesa Elementary School
  • A library and cafeteria at Fort Lewis Mesa Elementary
  • Plumbing and electrical work at Needham Elementary
  • A foundation for the new addition and asbestos removal at Park Elementary School
  • Foundation work at Riverview and Sunnyside Elementary schools
  • Structural steel at Escalante Middle School
  • Storm, water and sewer utilities relocation at Miller Middle School
  • Foundation work for Durango High School’s arts addition

"The construction is on schedule and on budget, and a citizens' construction oversight committee meets regularly to make sure it stays that way", Uroda said.

Most of the additions to school buildings should be done by spring break, said Diane Doney, 9-R director of business services. Then students will be moved from existing buildings into the additions so renovations can be completed.

The last major construction across the district happened in 1994, when Animas Valley Elementary and Escalante Middle School were built and Miller Middle School was renovated.

At Needham Elementary School, which underwent its last renovation in 1995, one wing is being remodeled and reconfigured, six new classrooms are being built, and the school is getting a multi-use space for assemblies, programs, and projects and displays, said Principal Pete Harter.

"When we take the gym for those kinds of things, it disrupts the (physical education) programs. When we take the cafeteria, we have to work around lunch. When we take the library, we had to rearrange it", he said. "Having a multi-use space is new for us, and its a big improvement".

But all these improvements come with a price noise, vibrating classrooms and mud in the halls. At Needham, the construction is visible from the inside through a large window and from the outside because its happening right next to the playground. Nevertheless, students seem to understand the need for such disruptions.

"I know its for a good reason, but its kind of hard because its destroying the earth", said Needham second-grader Lily Byrd. "There used to be a nice green field. But i'tll help other kids go to school."

Third-grader Kourtney Aarvold said she thought it was cool when the principal got the flag up on the crane at the construction site.

"They're working on it really, really fast", she said.

"That's good because that will put an end to the noise and vibration", said Aarvolds friend and fellow third-grader Hannah Chapman.

"Sometimes we think the wall is going to fall on us", she said.

Blake Dunlap, a Needham second-grader, seemed resigned. "Its nothing", he said. "I'm used to it".






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