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Animas High School begins semester in new $19 million building on FLC campus

Building includes a makerspace, science lab, music room and open-space concept
Animas High School students attend classes on Thursday in their new high school at Fort Lewis College. The $19.1 million building was mostly funded through the Building Excellent Schools Today Grant. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Animas High School students returned to school this month to a new building constructed on the Fort Lewis College campus in Durango.

The school will host a ribbon-cutting at 5:30 p.m. today to celebrate the grand opening.

The $19.1 million building is an innovative structure featuring open work spaces and classrooms with garage doors where students can take their projects outside to work on them.

David Farkas, dean of students and makerspace engineering teacher, holds a project on Thursday that students have made in the makerspace classroom at the newly opened Animas High School at Fort Lewis College. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

It was primarily funded through the Building Excellent Schools Today Grant from the Colorado Department of Education. The grant allocated $13.7 million to the project. Other funding was raised through a capital campaign, which brought in close to $1 million, and Ballot Issue 4A, which allocated $2.5 million.

Downstairs, the new makerspace classroom is fully operational. There’s a plethora of new and interesting gadgets geared toward the school’s project-based learning model, including a 3D printer. Students are working on building a storage shed for the school and completing a camper van build-out.

The music room at Animas High School’s new building on the Fort Lewis College campus. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Another addition is the school’s upstairs music room. In collaboration with iAM MUSIC Institute, students can use the room to play instruments during their free time or while taking music production classes.

“We don’t have a traditional sort of band, but we have contemporary music,” said Head of School Rebecca Ruland.

The room features a range of instruments from drums to electric guitars students can use. It also offers a recording studio where students can record their own music or podcasts.

Ruland said the music program is beginning to take off.

Britt Blasdell, studio art teacher, hangs artwork from her students in the commons area Thursday at the newly opened Animas High School at Fort Lewis College. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

In the commons space toward the south end of building, large windows allow for scenic views of Smelter Mountain while students eat lunch or work on projects. The space is a two-story atrium that doubles as a multipurpose room where students can present end-of-the-year projects.

The new building also provides students with a large digital media lab downstairs where students can work on their digital arts, photography or film projects.

Kyle Edmondson teaches his math class Thursday at the newly opened Animas High School at Fort Lewis College. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Also new to the school is a science lab, which is the first time in school history an on-campus lab has been available. Previously, the school had used facilities at FLC for lab classes.

Sophomore Ruby Hamilton said she misses the tight-knit feeling of the old Animas location, which occupied temporary buildings along U.S. Highway 160 in south Durango.

Animas High School began holding classes in its new building this month at Fort Lewis College. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“It’s an awesome space, but it’s also kind of melancholy, too,” she said. “It kind of feels like trading in a nice space for the culture.”

She clarified that Animas High School didn’t lose its culture because of the new building; rather, the previous campus was smaller, which forced students to interact with each other in a more communal manner.

But she said the new breakout rooms and places where students can be alone is a positive trade-off.

Hallways, offices and classrooms have scenic views at the newly opened Animas High School at Fort Lewis College. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Animas sophomore Zoey Rich said the new location made school exciting to attend.

“It’s definitely added to the project-based aspect and helps emphasize the work that we can produce,” Rich said.

Another sophomore, Allison Amstutz, said the scenic views from the school’s large windows are her favorite part of the new building.

Animas is collaborating with FLC to help the college with its secondary and outdoor education programs.

College students attend classes with their professor at AHS during the morning and will spend time shadowing Animas teachers later in the day for their practicum.

Animas is also working toward giving its students college experience before graduating.

“We’re starting to build those relationships,” Ruland said. “Juniors and seniors, we want to pay for them to get 15 hours of elective credits, and have a semester’s worth of college completed before they graduate.”

With the capacity to hold about 400 students, the school is looking to grow in enrollment.

Student artwork hangs in the hallways of the newly opened Animas High School at Fort Lewis College. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Dean of Enrollment Libby Cowles said 300 students would be the ideal number. The school is expected to have about 225 students next school year and currently enrolls about 200. However, it is important to school administration to keep enrollment at a manageable level.

“Part of the success of our model is that we have really strong teacher-student relationships, and that happens because we’re a smaller school,” she said.

The school aims to be large enough to offer a variety of different programming but small enough to maintain a communal feel.

From a teacher retention standpoint, Ruland said the building will help attract teachers and keep them. She said the school’s culture is another reason why teachers like to stay at Animas.

tbrown@durangoherald.com

Students work on their art in Britt Blasdell’s studio art class Thursday at the newly opened Animas High School at Fort Lewis College. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
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