AHS students return to find a new school | AspenTimes.com

AHS students return to find a new school

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen High students greeted their brand-new school with wide eyes on Thursday morning, crowding into the entry hall to start the school year.

The first order of the morning was an assembly in the district theater, where Principal Kendall Evans used a laser pointer and a Powerpoint presentation to walk students through a blueprint of the facility. Just shortly after, students streamed from the auditorium across the drive to check out their new digs, towering above the rest of the Aspen schools.

Assistant Principal Tom Dodds shouted out directions to students on their way up the new concrete walkway, surrounded by not-yet-landscaped earth.

“It’s big,” said junior Dusty Stutsman. “I’ll never see my friends because I don’t know where to meet them.”

Inside the front doors, students tripped up the staircase for the first time, clutching class schedules and wandering back and forth to find first-period classes.

“It’s a little scary,” said freshman Nena Sivess, while looking for her literature and composition class. She and friend Carly Magill had just graduated from Aspen Middle School and now found themselves strolling through a larger school with older students.

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According to art teacher Barbara Smith, the overpowering “new school smell” in the building was primarily from a fresh coat of sealer that construction workers applied to the floors the night before. Smith, who spent the past two years on sabbatical, arrived to the new facility with a sense of wonder.

“It’s hard to comprehend the magnitude of the situation,” she said. “But I think the students are smarter than we give them credit for ? there are signs giving directions, and [the teachers] are here to cheerlead.”

The new facility with its large panes of glass that provide sweeping views of the valley, including a glimpse of the Maroon Bells, is a far cry from the high school students took classes in just last spring. The former one-story, carpeted building has been redone, and it now connects to the new school and provides a commons area, as well as foreign language and science classrooms.

“It’s pretty cool and a lot better than our old school. I didn’t think I’d like it this much, but it’s a lot more stylish than I thought it would be,” said Cassie Margaretten, a senior. “The heating was so bad in our old school, I wore my down coat to class every day. I’m excited about the new school.”

Evans agrees with Margaretten about the poor heating system in the old facility. He said when the older buildings reopen, they won’t be recognizable as old at all.

“All that will be the same of the old building is the roof and the exterior walls,” he said.

Teachers also heralded the school’s up-to-date technology. “Smart boards” allow teachers to project lessons from laptops onto a wall, and instructors can make changes to the image by touching the wall.

Superintendent Tom Farrell said his favorite area is the conference room, where fixed rows of desks feature attached swivel chairs, plugs for laptop computers and futuristic ceiling lights.

“I’ve heard only excitement from everyone about this, when I expected more ‘What’s this?’ and ‘I don’t like the colors,'” Farrell said. “It’s all going smoothly, and I’m impressed with how the staff is handling all the changes. Kendall [Evans] has also done a great job of handling this.”

The school’s new gym, currently containing piles of lumber and exposed metalwork, is expected to open on Sept. 23, along with a connection to a new commons area and cafeteria. Until then, students must bring their own lunches to school, and cafeteria tables are set up during lunch on the school’s covered outdoor walkways.

The school improvements make up most of the nearly $41 million bond voters passed in the fall of 2000. Officials expect to wrap up the AHS project, both construction and renovation, in January 2003.

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]

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