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Animas High School hires Denver firm to design new school

Anderson Mason Dale Architects should have plans complete by summer
Animas High School staff members discuss two conceptual plans for a new high school building at the school in January 2019. AHS has hired Anderson Mason Dale Architects of Denver to come up with a final design for the new school.

Animas High School has selected Anderson Mason Dale Architects of Denver to design its new school building on the Fort Lewis College campus.

Anderson Mason Dale beat four finalists that were interviewed for the job after nine firms submitted responses to a Request for Qualifications and Proposal, said AHS Head of School Sean Woytek.

The Denver firm will partner with RMBA Architects of Durango in completing the design for the new school. The design is anticipated to be complete by early summer with groundbreaking on the $18.1 million school anticipated for summer.

“When we met with them, they had done their research,” Woytek said. “They understood the background of the project, and they had a detailed understanding of us and what we were looking for. It was really impressive.”

Negotiations for a final contract with Anderson Mason Dale are underway because the final scope of the project is still being determined – with the possible inclusion of co-locating Big Picture High School on the same campus. But based on the Building Excellent Schools Today grant requirements, Anderson Mason Dale can receive up to 8% of the project’s cost.

Before final architectural plans are completed, Anderson Mason and Dale architects will meet with AHS administrators, teachers, staff members, students and parents as well as community members to inform the design team about what the school and community wants in a new building.

Final plans for the new school will build on a master plan for a new building developed two years ago by Humphries Poli Architects.

“Anderson Mason Dale will take the master plan and make it a reality. They’ll make some changes, and they’ll keep some things,” Woytek said. “In the next six months, they’ll have the nuts and bolts of the building. What it looks like, the classroom space, the labs, the cafeteria, the footprint.”

The goal is for the design to be complete to begin construction in summer of 2021 with completion of the building, which will be located south of the Bader-Snyder Residence Halls, set for the opening day for the 2022-23 school year.

The construction time frame is aggressive, but Woytek said architects have told him a building ready for occupancy could be expected 11 to 13 months after groundbreaking.

Durango School District 9-R is actively pursuing building a new school for Big Picture High School to be co-located with the new AHS school, said Durango School District Superintendent Dan Snowberger.

Meetings with AHS are examining how to achieve cost-effective designs to co-locate the schools, and money has been set aside from the recently passed bond measure providing funding for $90 million in capital construction upgrades for 9-R. Money to finance a new Big Picture High School building is also allocated in the district’s Long-Range Plan, Snowberger said.

“The district is actively pursuing an addition to the Animas building to facilitate the needs of Big Picture High School since its current facility is up for sale,” Snowberger said in an email to The Durango Herald.

Woytek said a partnership with 9-R and a co-located Big Picture High School might lead to opportunities to enhance the AHS building by creating shared facilities with Big Picture that might not be affordable by a single school.

He mentioned shared facilities for laboratory spaces, a demonstration kitchen and a conference/board room as possibilities opened up by co-locating Big Picture as part of the project.

“We might be able to split costs to offer enhanced facilities that no one school would need all the time, but would provide additional features we couldn’t afford separately,” Woytek said.

AHS is in its seventh year using two modular structures as its home near Twin Buttes.

“Everyone’s excited to move into a new school that’s designed for project-based learning,” Woytek said. “We’ve struggled to display students’ projects, and that’s important, and we don’t have spaces for collaborative work. If students want to work together, now, their best option is to meet outside in the parking lot.”

AHS has received a $13.7 million BEST grant from the state to build the new school, but it must come up with a $4.4 million local match. The charter school did receive $2.5 million from 9-R’s $90 million bond issuance approved Nov. 3 by voters.

AHS is looking to cover the rest of the local match through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Facilities Direct Loan & Grant Program, which serves to finance essential community facilities in rural areas.

Woytek said AHS is looking to obtain a low-interest loan of up to $4 million through the federal program. The loan would be paid back over 40 years at rates lower than those available through conventional funding from a private lender.

AHS is also set to begin a capital campaign to begin raising private donations for the new building.

Woytek said by raising money beyond the $4.4 million needed for the local match for the state’s BEST grant, AHS will be able to cover increased costs caused by COVID-19 and perhaps offer enhanced facilities not originally envisioned.

Lauren Savage, FLC spokeswoman, said the college has requested the new AHS building incorporate and complement the architecture on campus “while maintaining its own character.”

FLC will have a member on a Design Advisory Group that AHS is forming to work with Anderson Mason Dale Architects.

Construction on the new high school building and FLC’s new $33 million Health Sciences Center, near Whalen Gym, will occur simultaneously, but the school does not anticipate the construction will interfere with normal operations on campus, Savage said.

Kelsey Deckert, project manager for FLC’s Physical Plant Services, said, “AMD has designed several buildings on our campus and is currently working on the Health Sciences Center. We’re confident they’ll do a great job for AHS and are looking forward to the process.”


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