New school at head of the class |

New school at head of the class

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

ASPEN A new era began Tuesday at Aspen Middle School, where the $29 million campus opened to hundreds of kids who saw their summer come to an abrupt end.However, few, if any, students seemed disappointed that the fall semester is under way, perhaps because of their new, shiny digs. “I liked it,” Colin Grant, 10, said after a tour of the facilities with other students and faculty members. “It’s really cool – best school I’ve been in.”

Though some new parts of the school were up and running, some components of the campus remain unfinished.The playground area won’t be ready for another year, meaning middle school recess is on the new football field. At noon, the field was a madhouse of activity. Principal Tom Heald said the cafeteria was getting its finishing touches and books likely would not arrive in the library for another week. He said the technology people were still setting up all the “bells and whistles,” and that kinks would likely take a while to get worked out. As Heald was talking, a kid ran up to him and said he was lost. Then a second kid ran up and said, “We’re looking for clay.” And with that, Heald was off.

Despite the minor details that remain to be finished, the $29 million, 110,000-square-foot school has mostly been completed. The biggest task left is demolishing the old middle school, an 85,000-square-foot building that adjoins the new school on two sides. In the space where the old school stands will be a new playground and additional landscaping, none of which will happen until next summer. 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 interim 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. Superintendent Diana Sirko said its crews hustled seven days a week to get the school finished ahead of schedule.”We just got permission to put kids in it yesterday,” Sirko said Tuesday. “It’s an incredible accomplishment.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is

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