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Durango school district is now ready for ‘Impact’

Students show off their new home for career development pathways
Students and board members prepare to cut the ribbon to signify the grand opening of the Impact Career Innovation Center. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

One of School District 9-R’s most instrumental pieces to its Portrait of a Graduate plan is now complete.

On Wednesday night, students, teachers and upward of around 100 community members celebrated the grand opening of the Impact Career Innovation Center.

The building was funded through Bond Issue 4A, which allocated $90 million to Durango School District 9-R for facility upgrades, and was designed by Anderson Mason Dale Architects.

The building cost about $10 million and features the use of natural light through skylights. It is two stories with a makerspace, breakout rooms and a pitch room upstairs. The bottom floor includes a common area, a cafe and rooms for students to collaborate.

The Impact Career Innovation Center sign lit up on Wednesday night. The building will support the Durango High School’s 14 career pathways. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald file)

“Something that not everybody around here knows is that the state actually gives us $0 for buildings, as far as infrastructure. It’s all up to the local community and the taxpayers of this community. So while there's 1000 people that we need to thank, we're all a part of this project. The biggest group the board wants to thank is you the citizens who live within 9-R because you chose to support the Bond Issue in 2020,” said 9-R board of education treasurer Rick Petersen.

Durango school district Superintendent Karen Cheser said the district had a complex problem with constructing the building.

The Durango High School orchestra performing during the opening ceremony of the Impact Career Innovation Center. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

“We honestly had just enough money to do about 10,000 square feet,” she said. “And so how do you take 10,000 square feet and make sure you have a facility that meets the needs of all 14 career pathways.”

Many of the classrooms in the building are shared among multiple classes within the high school. Cheser said construction costs soared to about $600 per square foot when Impact broke ground in September 2022.

While 9-R staff displayed their gratitude for the new building, DHS students prepared detailed guided tours for attendees inside. Participants walked through the building and experienced all of the high school’s career pathways.

Students from the DHS culinary program prepared and served finger foods for the entire event, proving to be quick and efficient to delight guests.

In the makerspace, students from Jordan Englehart’s engineering classes and the robotics team were showing off their robot to tour groups. The Impact building has allowed the robotics team to build a full arena in the makerspace.

Students from the DHS medical career pathways program demonstrate how to take an electrocardiogram reading. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

“We had no space for the competitive robotics arena previously. So like last year, would you say I don't think we ever had our full game board setup,” Englehart said.

The goal of the team was to create a robot that could stack a cup at 34 inches. Each team is given a starter kit, including a main robot body and motor. Students then have to modify the robot by building arms that can vary in length to accomplish the task using a 3D printer.

With this space, the team can now set up a close to full game board for the robotics competition.

Community members flood the lobby of the Impact Career Innovation Center during the grand opening ceremony on Wednesday. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

“This actually just gives us a space. Wherever the students are working to build a robot, they can come up here and test it and revise it and having 3D printers gives us the option to be doing some 3D modeling, but we can just come up and get large numbers of kids 3D printing. It’s just nice having the added space or flexibility to do something more specific,” Englehart said.

Downstairs, DHS senior Lainey Wilson showed off her fashion designs for the fashion design career pathway. Wilson is currently making her own prom dress in addition to her work for the class.

Wilson is actually interested in pursuing a degree in biology but has always been passionate about fashion design. She says pursuing the career pathway has taught her many valuable skills about leadership and communication.

Wilson has competed in multiple competitions for her design work.

Rydin Hill controls robot built for the FIRST TECH Challenge in the Impact Career Development Center makerspace on Wednesday night. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

“I love art fashion, sketching. That was the first event I competed in and that was what really drew me in,” she said.

Upstairs, the DHS Distributive Education Clubs of America team presented about their upcoming competitions in business finance. They were utilizing the Impact building’s pitch room to show slides on monitors while discussing their entrepreneurial and financial endeavors.

Sophomore Andre Craig said he’s always wanted to pursue a career in finance. Through DECA competitions, he is able to put his skills to the test.

“A scenario I've been put in is … I am working as a financial consultant for a company that is thinking about opening a new branch in another country. And they want to know about the costs associated with that and what kind of market making expect to get over there,” Craig said.

Craig competed in the DECA International Career Development Conference last year.

“DECA has an amazing network of people (who are) actually in business. The speaker at ICDC last year was someone who had founded a billion dollar cybersecurity company,” said sophomore Bennette Sheer.

The district looks to continue building a career pathway pipeline Southwest Colorado at a time where employers are struggling to find labor.


Members of the DHS culinary arts program prepare finger foods during the Impact Career Innovation Center grand opening ceremony on Wednesday. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

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