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Mountain Middle School’s $4.2 million addition features high-tech and green thinking

Rooftop classroom includes solar panels for shade while feeding building with renewable energy
Eric Hillstrom teaches his digital media class Thursday at Mountain Middle School in an outdoor classroom that uses solar panels to provide shade. It is all part of the school’s $4.2 million addition. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Mountain Middle School looked a little different this week when students returned from summer break. On the south end stood a brand-new, four-story, 12,000-square-foot structure worth $4.2 million.

The addition was needed to accommodate a growing student body at the Durango charter school. The school, located at 108 W. 31st St. in north Durango, now has 300 students in fourth to eighth grades. New staff members were also added over the summer.

“It was primarily based on our enrollment demand,” said Head of School Shane Voss. “We’ve had a wait list for the past 12 years to get into our school and we wanted to try to accommodate more students on our campus.”

Of the $4.2 million, $2.5 million came from Bond Issue 4A allocations, which also provided funding for the new Animas High School location set to open in October on the Fort Lewis College campus.

Mountain Middle School students play Thursday outside a new addition to the school, which cost $4.2 million and is four stories tall and 12,000 square feet in size. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Voss said the renovations were completed about a week before the start of school.

The addition features a digital makerspace, an art studio, a staff development room and an outdoor classroom. The additions factor into the school’s project-based curriculum.

The digital makerspace features a green screen room and two soundproof podcast recording rooms. The makerspace is also filled with computers where students can edit videos or sound clips and use 3D printers.

Each of the classrooms have large Promethean boards, something Voss describes as a giant iPad.

“It’s pretty unique for a school to have these types of facilities. So we’re super excited and the energy is palpable on our campus right now,” he said.

Shane Voss, head of school at Mountain Middle School, demonstrates a large Promethean board. He described the electronic boards as being like a giant iPad. They have been placed in all the classrooms in the newly constructed addition of the school. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

He said the art studio is four times the size of the former studio. It features adjustable tables that allow students to change the height based on the needs of their project. The addition also includes a kiln room in the basement. He said features included in the addition are meant to optimize the learning environment based on the school’s educational model.

The outdoor classroom is on the top floor of the new addition. The classroom uses 80 newly added solar panels for shading. Voss said that is important given the school’s commitment to sustainability.

Mountain Middle School uses solar energy for the entire school.

Maria Miller, studio arts teacher at Mountain Middle School, prepares for students Thursday in the arts classroom that is part of a new addition this year at Mountain Middle School. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“You shouldn’t be reading about sustainability and carbon neutrality in just a textbook,” he said. “We should be able to see it and experience it, learn it, see the data on our website, know that there is probably a better way to solve climate change.”

Students can plug in and charge their computers or phones using power generated from the solar panels.

Voss said the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to social distance added to an emphasis on outdoor learning. He said teachers should be role models for sustainability but the building should also inspire students to be environmentally friendly.

Shane Voss, head of school at Mountain Middle School, pops into a classroom Thursday. He gave a tour of a $4.2 million addition to the school. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

To add to the school’s environmental efforts, two electric charging stations were installed in the staff parking lot. Those are meant to encourage staff members to drive electric vehicles.

“They can charge for free while they’re at work,” he said.

Mountain Middle School students study in Meredith Beal’s science and social studies class Thursday in the new addition at the school. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Voss eventually wants to have 19 charging stations if more staff members move toward driving electric vehicles. The school would also like to switch to electric vans in the future.

West of the new building is a patch of lawn that will be used like an outdoor amphitheater. Voss intends students to use the space for Socratic seminars.

In the basement of the addition are 31 Specialized mountain bikes that will be used for physical education classes.

Voss said the school’s PE program tries to do unique activities rather than just playing kickball in the gym.

The new addition also features intervention rooms. Intervention rooms allow students to have alone time or work one-on-one with teachers. For example, if a student is struggling with a subject, he or she can get help in a safe environment.

Students in Eric Hillstrom’s digital media class at Mountain Middle School talk about their project on Thursday under solar panels in the outdoor classroom that is on the top floor of the new addition of the school. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“They can pull students into these spaces and help them if they are struggling with math or reading,” Voss said.

The intervention rooms are built between classrooms with access from both rooms. Depending on the class subject, the intervention rooms will have resources for students based on that academic area. For example, a language arts classroom may have a variety of books in the intervention room.

Shane Voss, head of school at Mountain Middle School, is surrounded by students Thursday in the outdoor classroom that is part of a $4.2 million new addition this year. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Most of the classrooms in the new addition are for students in fourth and fifth grades. Voss said the school caps those classes at 20 students for a better learning environment and to attract teachers.

In addition to students trying to get into Mountain, Voss said the school has a wait list for teaching applicants who are drawn to the small class sizes.

“It’s all about what you can do to help teachers have the class sizes and facilities they need,” Voss said.


Mountain Middle Schools new logo. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

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