Work on Aspen High School addition still in high gear | AspenTimes.com

Work on Aspen High School addition still in high gear

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

On time and on budget – those are words that project managers at Aspen High School are quick to quote to those surveying their ongoing construction project.

And with just three weeks before the start of a new school year, the managers want to keep things that way, even if it means working 12-hour shifts six days a week.

Nearly 500 lockers have been installed in preparation for the new school year, which begins on Aug. 22. This is a good sign that all is going to plan, said project representative Andy Montoya. And the installation of the lockers is just one of many finishing touches workers will put on the new building this month.

The addition – a two-story arc that spans the entire length of the existing high school – will be open and ready for business on Aug. 22. The progress is a dramatic change from last August, when returning students saw only a concrete outline of the addition.

Montoya and Rod Thornburg, project manager with G.E. Johnson Construction, have provided frequent tours of the project, which will add over 100,000 square feet of space to the high school. Included in the new wing are a number of classrooms that will eventually house the English, math and social studies departments.

Classrooms will come complete with a “smart board,” one of Montoya’s favorite technological features. A media cabinet in each room hides computer equipment that, with the use of an overhead projector, can shine the contents of its screen onto the classroom “smart board.” The board allows teachers to project lesson plans, as well as operate the computer from up to 12 feet away.

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Aside from technologically advanced classrooms, the new-look AHS will boast several amenities that come with a $40.9 million construction project. On the first level of the new wing, students will find a new weight room with equipment recently acquired from the Maroon Creek Club. The first floor also boasts a new lobby area for the expanded gym, including rooms for offices and areas for concession stands.

The gymnasium itself will not be turned over to AHS staff until Sept. 22, a delay construction officials expected.

“We’re right on schedule for this to open in the third week of September,” Thornburg said.

The new gym will have three volleyball courts, a full-sized basketball court and a second-story track with room for six lanes of runners.

Expanded locker rooms built to complement the new gym will be ready earlier than the gym itself, Thornburg said. AHS’ fall sports begin on Aug. 15, and participants will have the new locker rooms to look forward to.

Level one will also be the future home of the music/theater room, often referred to as the “black box” theater by architects. Workers were busy installing maple wood flooring in the theater last week, a project Thornburg predicts will be completed shortly.

Two elevators have been installed recently to provide access to the new building’s second level. One of the many features on the upper floor is a new lecture hall that seats nearly 200. The hall is equipped with enough wiring to outfit each individual desk with electricity.

“We wired each one, if anyone wanted to use their laptops right at their desks,” Montoya said.

The second level will also house the school’s new library. This room was one of the first in the building to be completed, Montoya said, so the school district would not have to scare up storage space for the AHS book collection.

The new library not only offers a generous view of Tiehack, but also has an extra classroom for students taking part in special research projects.

“This room was designed for students to come here rather than take up library space,” Montoya said.

New offices for teachers, also with generous views of surrounding ski hills, are scattered throughout the building. Sections of these offices are also reserved for a common area “where they can do their planning as a department,” he said, as well as desk space for students seeking extra help.

Montoya and Thornburg are especially proud of a few special features included in the new AHS wing. Second-story hallways, for example, have been equipped with skylights, and extra windows in classrooms provide natural light to teaching environments. Exposed wooden beams give the addition an outdoorsy feel; unique light fixtures were used to avoid the cookie-cutter look of most educational institutions.

However, both men are proudest of the fact that safety will continue to be the top priority with the start of the new school year. G.E. Johnson has stationed sentries along the edges of the construction site to ward off hikers and bikers who venture too close to dangerous equipment, Thornburg said. In fact, workers not even charged with enforcing safety procedures are known to stop curious visitors who wander too close to the renovation area without the proper safety equipment.

Crews will address all “life safety issues” well before AHS opens to students, Thornburg said.

“We’re really close, barring a major catastrophe of some sort,” Thornburg said. “We’re just trying to get the loose ends put together.”

Though the AHS addition is close to completion, school officials will have to wait a few weeks for the renovation of the old high school – some 78,000 square feet of space – to finish up. Thornburg and Montoya predict that the new commons area and gym should be turned over to students by Sept. 23; pods used for art and counseling, on the other hand, should be done in early October. The AHS science pod – the most difficult to outfit, considering sink space and drains required for each room – will be opened to teachers and students by Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, six mobile classrooms as well as rooms in the new wing will be used to make up for some of the lost space.

Officials expect to wrap up the AHS project, both construction and renovation, by Jan. 14, 2003.