Middle school readier than it looks
ASPEN The new Aspen Middle School, at least in certain areas, does not look as though it will be ready by Aug. 28, the day both the middle and elementary schools are due to open.Exposed steel beams, open walls and piles of equipment and building materials scattered here and there form the predominant impression of the mammoth, L-shaped, 110,500-square-foot structure, which surrounds the old middle school (a mere 85,000 square feet) on two sides.And the old middle school building, though partially demolished, is still largely intact and may stay that way through the coming school year.But the exterior of the new building is largely done, many parts of the interior are nearing completion, and according to Superintendent Diana Sirko, it will be ready in time.”I got a call from a parent just this morning who told me, ‘It looks good. Is it going to be ready on time?’ And I told her, ‘Yup, it is,'” Sirko said Monday during a tour of the school.The school initially was scheduled to open in late September, and the construction schedule was complicated by the fact that the original contractor, FCI, backed out in the interval between the voters’ approval of a $33 million school bond and the actual signing of a project contract.But G.E. Johnson, the firm that built the $40 million Aspen High School several years ago, stepped in and took over the project. Sirko said its crews have been hustling seven days a week to get the school finished ahead of schedule.Concerning the project budget, Sirko said the school has had to cut some corners to make up for rising costs, such as the spike in concrete, fuel and other prices after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005. The subsequent reconstruction effort for New Orleans and other stricken cities put a squeeze on construction materials throughout the region.Among the changes were alterations in the kinds of interior lighting used to illuminate the classrooms and other areas. Because of its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification – the school is in the silver category, second from the top – much of the lighting in the school will be from natural daylight streaming in through windows designed to keep the heat in, and special louvres to regulate the light and the warmth that comes with it.In addition to the lighting, the LEED certification reflects the building’s use of innovative heating and air conditioning technology, Sirko said, adding that “we hope this building will use 50 percent less energy than the old building used [and] we believe this building will save almost a million pounds per year in greenhouse gases.”The school board has approved cuts to the building plans over the past year. These cuts have included the elimination of a new lobby and scene studio at the Aspen Elementary School District Theatre, which was included in the 2005 bond election, although the backstage area has been expanded and updated, along with some of the electrical and rigging equipment.Further cuts have included elimination of zinc as the exterior wall paneling for the upper floors on the southern and western part of the new middle school, and a curtain to divide the new gymnasium in half for differentiated instruction instead of the moveable wall originally planned.In a further effort to save money, the district pulled a significant amount of furnishings, such as cabinetry, off the walls of the old school and put it into the new one. Sirko said the savings amounted to “about $200,000,” and she credited the staff and teachers helping out.”They looked at it as, ‘How can we utilize what we have now,’ and not spend money unnecessarily,” Sirko said.In general, Sirko expects the project to consume the entire budget “without very much left of any contingencies,” a reference to contingency funds built into the bonding issue question to cover unexpected expenses.The new school is much roomier and brighter that the old building, with bigger classrooms and extra areas for everything from detention – cubbyholes adjacent to the school office – to student gathering areas. Many rooms boast spectacular views toward Buttermilk and Maroon Creek, although some rooms may initially find their view partially blocked if the old school remains standing.Sirko said about two-thirds of the old middle school may be left standing just in case the new school is not finished on time, noting, “You never know what’s going to happen” and there may be a need to put some students in the old building.Plus, she said, demolition of the old school was held up because of new regulations concerning asbestos abatement, which caused problems she said have now been resolved. But officials are concerned that demolition during the school year would be too disruptive to the students, and the building may stay as it is until the summer of 2008.Much of the new school will be equipped throughout with Wi-Fi, or wireless Internet technology, as well as with coaxial connections for those computers without wireless capabilities. And every classroom will be furnished with a “smart board,” a sort of electronic chalkboard, Sirko reported.The cafeteria is designed to hold up to 450 at a time, though usually the lunch program feeds only 250 at a time or so. The school’s capacity at present will be about 450, with potential for expansion up to about 600 students.The current construction schedule calls for the classroom wing – basically the short section of the “L” – to be finished by roughly July 18, and the remainder to be done by Aug. 12.New teachers are expected to report to school on Aug. 17, and returning teachers will be coming back to work on Aug. 20. Information will go out to parents starting Aug. 1, Sirko said.John Colson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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