ASPEN - In announcing their campaign to raise millions of dollars for a new campus, Aspen Community School administrators made one thing clear: The small charter school has done some amazing things in a not-so-amazing facility.
"Aspen Community School is one of the state's highest-performing schools in one of the state's lowest-performing facilities," Principal Jim Gilchrist said Wednesday during a news conference to kick off the school's fundraising effort.
In fact, the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school - located in Woody Creek and operated by the nonprofit organization Compass as a charter school of the Aspen School District - recently received a 131 on the Colorado Department of Education's Colorado Facility Index, which rates public school facilities; the average score in Colorado is 45. The 131 score ranked ACS the 24th worst out of 1,689 public schools assessed.
"Space matters," Gilchrist said. "We are literally bursting at the seams."
Thus, Aspen Community School is embarking on a capital campaign to overhaul its campus, growing its total square footage by 31 percent to accommodate its student body of 127 children.
The campaign became a reality with last month's announcement that the school was the recipient of a $4.2 million grant from Colorado's Building Excellent Schools Today program.
The campaign kicked into high gear Wednesday, when school officials explained that they must now match that grant to the tune of $4.9 million by May 1. They are hoping to raise an additional $2.5 million to complete the project as planned.
"Aspen Community School has been defying the odds since the beginning," said Compass board President Melanie Muss, referring to the school's 42-year history. "And we are expecting to defy the odds with this challenge."
The first pieces of the puzzle came together Wednesday. Longtime area resident Virginia Newton was named director of the fundraising campaign, called "I Believe"; the Community Office of Resource Efficiency gave the project a $27,000 grant for green building plans; and Aspen Superintendent John Maloy presented Aspen Community School with a check for $240,930, which represents 50 percent of the district's land dedication fees for 2011-12.
"We've got the state behind us, we've got the school district behind us, and now we need to the community to rally behind this worthwhile effort," said Skye Skinner, executive director of Compass.