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Miller Middle School designs emphasize outdoor learning spaces

Building on track to open for 2024-25 school year
During a community update about the new Miller Middle School building, Durango School District 9-R shared conceptual plans from its design and architecture partners. (Courtesy of Durango School District 9-R)

Design plans for the new Miller Middle School emphasize shared learning spaces, outdoor learning spaces and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant access, in addition to other features school officials say will facilitate their style of teaching.

The designs are intended to support the kind of learning that school officials want to create within the new building, Dylan Connell, executive director of curriculum, said in an earlier virtual presentation.

Designs also considered opportunities for hosting guests such as business leaders, college professors and other visitors, he said.

Designs call for a three-in-one performance space to hold 350 audience members with a stage and acoustics, the school cafeteria and a set of learning stairs, which provide a relaxed study and lecture space.

Principal Doug Geygan said the middle school intends to advance its performing arts. He called the plans an important step in the school’s designs “because it is vital that we develop our performance space that was going to support not just music, but drama.”

The logistics of Miller Middle School’s new campus and design were discussed during a public presentation by Durango School District 9-R and designers in April. Designs include a new ball field, a new performance space and an indoor/outdoor cafeteria. (Courtesy of Durango School District 9-R)

“Honestly, it is going to be the heart of our school,” he said. “Kids will be performing, singing, dancing and acting in a state-of-the-art stage right at the center of our school.”

Plans also call for learning stairs in the performance center, or areas along stairways with space for gathering and seating that typically feature a raised platform at the base of the stairs for teaching, lectures and presentations.

The space can also accommodate informal gatherings during lunch or between classes to promote learning.

The cafeteria will open to the outdoors, Geygan said.

Connell said the design includes elevator access for ADA compliance, in addition to a bridge concept connecting indoor and outdoor learning spaces, which plays into the vision of “inclusivity,” “belonging” and “connectedness.”

The new gym will be able to accommodate two athletic competitions at the same time.

Currently, some students must use elementary school gymnasiums for competitions. Geygan said students want to compete at their own school and the new building will make that possible.

A fitness room is also planned for weights programs and fitness classes. The fitness room will open to the outside. Geygan said the feature will support classes and student mental health.

Creating a team learning environment
Designs of Miller Middle School were displayed during a public presentation by Durango School District 9-R and designers in April. The new middle school building is on track to open in 2024. (Courtesy of Durango School District 9-R)

“I’m super excited because this new building is being specifically designed to support the type of learning environment that we are creating,” Geygan said.

The layout facilitates learning pods for group learning that will enable students to participate in engaged thinking, collaborative problem-solving and student discourse.

The school is creating an engineering program for seventh and eighth graders expected to launch next year.

The program will include robotics, programming and engineering design classes, he said. The classes will align with Durango High School’s career pathways, so students will be able to gain high school credit while enrolled in Miller Middle School.

The new building will also include a makerspace, said Karla Sluis, district spokeswoman. She said the makerspace will be a great asset for the middle school’s new engineering program.

“Maybe it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is when you’re a junior and senior and you have opened up all sorts of opportunities because you’ve taken care of some credit early in your career,” Geygan said.

In previous surveys, participants indicated they most valued making the new building and campus more energy and water efficient. They also valued “thermal comfort” and daylight harvesting – that is, they prioritized student and staff member comfort within the building and plentiful access to daylight in classrooms, said Jackie Squires, project manager and architect with Cuningham Group.

Other valued features included outdoor learning opportunities and community access, she said.

Development of the new Miller Middle School building is on track with the projected schedule, Squires said.

The full project timeline, including elements that have already been completed, is as follows:

  • Programming/Concept: September-December 2021.
  • Schematic Design: December 2021-February 2022.
  • Design Development: February-May 2022.
  • Construction Documents: May-October 2022.
  • Bidding/Permitting: October-December 2022.
  • Construction: January 2023-June 2024.
  • Close-Out/Move-In: July-August 2024.
  • Building Demo and Site Work: July 2024-February 2025.

The public presentation about design plans can be viewed at https://bit.ly/38jOtsL.


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