Aspen Community School gets grant | AspenTimes.com

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Aspen Community School gets grant

Andre Salvail/The Aspen Times

Flanked by dozens of excited students on the Wheeler Opera House stage, Aspen Community School officials announced Tuesday that they met a fundraising goal for the required matching funds to secure a $4.2 million grant from the state.

Two weeks ago, the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade Woody Creek charter school said it was $1 million short of the necessary match money to obtain the Building Excellent Schools Today grant, deemed crucial in helping the school to reconstruct its 43-year-old campus. The deadline was today.

Skye Skinner, executive director of Compass, the nonprofit organization that operates the school, said that "piggy-bank donations" of $812.02 from many of the institution's 127 students put the fund-raising campaign over the top.

"We feel like 'The Little Engine That Could,'" Skinner said in a prepared statement. "We kept at it, telling ourselves, 'We think we can'­ — until we did."

On the Wheeler stage, though, Skinner said more hard work remains. In all, the school has raised $9.1 million of its overall $11.6 million goal, a figure that includes the BEST grant. The school had to raise $4.9 million to secure the $4.2 million grant. Skinner had applied three times before for the state grant, without success.

"We have another $2.5 million to raise," she said. "We have an internal goal to do that by September 2014. We have a lot of reason to believe that we will succeed. We have a lot of wind in our sails now."

The capital campaign was fast and furious, with the school raising $3 million since March 18. Donors included alumni, school families, their neighbors and community-minded philanthropists, the school said.

"This has been the most extraordinary journey, and the community support has been just overwhelming," Skinner said on stage after the students cheered and raised their arms on cue, adding, "We very urgently need to rebuild our school."

Principal Jim Gilchrist called Skinner the "pit bull" of fundraising and a firm believer that the grant was achievable.

"People who didn't even know us got on board. I just want to give a big shout-out to perseverance, grit, character and believing that we can do it," he said, eliciting more applause from the kids.

Skinner said the school will seek bids this summer for a project manager and an architectural firm. She said the school hopes to break ground a year from now with the goal of moving into the new school building by September 2015.

According to the school, the $11.6 million capital campaign will provide a learning facility with an additional 5,000 square feet of learning space compared with what the students have today. It will be energy efficient and accessible to those with disabilities. The school's gym will be converted into a community hall and theater, and all existing buildings will be renovated and given a new purpose.

asalvail@aspentimes.com