Space now an issue at Aspen Middle School |

Space now an issue at Aspen Middle School

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” As the new Aspen Middle School undergoes its shakedown year when teachers, students and administrators get to know the building, some have been critical of the way the building’s spaces are being used.

Specifically, there have been questions raised about the fate of a 10,000-square-foot cavern in the basement.

The space, located under the corner of the building closest to the high school, originally was intended to be little more than a crawl space.

But the district administration decided that part of the building should be excavated and finished as storage space, to leave open the option of using it later if desired.

According to sources both within the school and outside it, some have viewed the space as ideal for expanded quarters for the art and band classes, to replace rooms that have been criticized as being too small and cramped to function adequately.

But Superintendent Diana Sirko, reached by telephone Wednesday on her way out of town, said the art and music classrooms are where they are supposed to be according to the original plans, and they seem to be sufficient for the school’s need.

Principal Tom Heald said he was aware that some feel the art and music classes are too small and that a change is needed. But he noted that the teachers were involved in designing the spaces and “they look to be absolutely adequate.”

Although there was discussion of moving art and music instruction into the cavern space, the district does not have the funds to do that right now, Sirko said, so they are staying put.

“For the regular classes … it’s more than large enough,” she said, maintaining that both the band room and the art room are “adequate for our needs. The plan is certainly to keep them where they are for now.”

“Of course, in the future, if our needs change, then the use of that space would change,” she said of the unused 10,000 square feet.

Band instructor Kirk Jones could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon, but art teacher Rae Lampe agreed that the current art classroom is sufficient.

Others, however, are not so sure.

“I think that the children got gypped,” declared former Aspen School Board member Jeanette Darnauer, after a recent tour of the middle school building conducted by Sirko and Heald.

“And I mean not just the middle school kids, but the whole student body, because the arts enhance everybody’s learning ability,” she continued, noting that recently she toured the new high school in Glenwood Springs and “they have a whole arts wing.”

Darnauer said Sirko indicated the smaller spaces for art and music are “part of a national trend,” but she maintained “the trend around the country also is to cut music [programs]” as a way of saving money in tight budgetary times.

“I know the Aspen School District says they’re supportive of the arts, but I’m not seeing it,” she concluded. “I feel like the downvalley districts are doing a better job at that than the Aspen School District.”

As things now stand, the vast unimproved basement space is being used largely to store a wide range of gear, including unused lockers, equipment used in the annual Aspen Ski Swap and other items.

Plus, in a recent development, it will house a 2,300-square-foot fitness room.

The fitness room is being built, according to Heald, with money raised by the high school’s booster club.

The room, which will include free weights and some aerobic fitness equipment, is for use by “everybody in the district,” Heald said, adding that it is not certain when the facility will be finished.

According to Sirko, the booster club raised about $95,000, which will pay for the construction of walls to separate the fitness room from the general space, as well as flooring, furnishings and equipment.

Both Sirko and Heald said the fitness room is intended to be a temporary use in the basement space.

Heald said it is needed for a combination of reasons.

He said the fitness facilities at the high school are not adequate to meet the school’s needs and middle school gym teacher Clay Shiflet is planning to increase the role of aerobic exercise in the physical education of the middle school students.

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