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New school year comes with upgrades for Durango students

Security and parking improvements prioritized during summer remodels
Jon Hoerl, principal at Durango High School, stands behind bullet-resistant glass Tuesday where security will check in students, parents and visitors. Durango School District spent about $8 million this summer upgrading schools. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

When Durango School District 9-R students return to school Tuesday morning, many will be greeted with upgraded building amenities, including new carpet, freshly paved parking lots and updated security features.

The upgrades were made to Durango High School, Needham Elementary School, Park Elementary School, Escalante Middle School and Animas Valley Elementary School. The summer projects are estimated to cost around $8 million in 4-A Bond money.

New carpet at Park Elementary School will brighten up the classrooms and hallways. Some of the carpet is made of a thicker material that is designed to soak up water and dirt to prevent students and visitors from tracking it through the school. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Among the summer projects, the vestibules are most significant. The entryway upgrades were made to Animas Valley, Needham, Escalante and DHS for safety purposes. Vestibules are large glass entryways that separate an initial entry doorway from the doorway accessing the school.

“We tried to create a space that was welcoming and friendly and secure. So it is going to be different,” said 9-R spokeswoman Karla Sluis. “But obviously, there’s great reasons to keep it a safe space and have people checked out. We’re hoping the community will understand that sometimes they’ll have to wait (before entering a school).”

Students will pass through a new vestibule before entering and leaving Needham Elementary School. Once school is in session, those entering the school must press a button near the door of the vestibule. That will alert front desk workers that someone is trying to enter, and they can allow them through the entryway of the vestibule. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

At Needham, faculty members will welcome students as they pass through the entryway at the beginning of each day. Once school starts, those entering the school will have to press a button near the door of the vestibule. This will alert those working the front desk that someone is trying to enter and they can allow them through the entryway of the vestibule. Once inside, an office will be off to the right where guests must check in with the school. The office includes a waiting room where parents can wait if they need to speak with school faculty.

Some doors at Needham will have censors that alert school district security if a door is propped open. Most doors with direct access to the school have card readers for access.

Only faculty and district members will have access cards to the school.

“Our safety director at the district office has a wide array of security monitors, and she can see all the entrances to all schools,” Sluis said.

Needham Principal Riley Alderton said the added safety of the vestibule is crucial.

“Previously, we buzzed them in, but they could still get in the hallways without coming to the office. So definitely, a step up for our security process,” he said.

Alderton said teachers and staff members are stewards of educational safety. He said parents entrust the school for their child’s education, and he wants to provide them with the safest learning environment possible.

Devon Merriman, construction program manager with Jacobs Engineering Group, walks through the newly constructed vestibule at the entrance of Durango High School on Tuesday. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

At Durango High School, the vestibule is much larger. A similar entering process will take place at DHS. In the vestibule, there is a bullet-resistant glass window to the right where students and parents may check in. At the beginning of the day and during lunch periods, Principal Jon Hoerl or other faculty members will be checking student identifications as they enter the school.

Hoerl said the procedure also allows him to get to know DHS students.

“It provides us a great way to have a secure check-in process, which was not present before, and a great way to make sure all of our security measures are at the front entrance space,” he said.

He said all the doors will have security sensors and the high school will have an on-duty student resource officer.

If parents must deliver items to students during the day, Hoerl said the process won’t be much different than it is now. If it is a larger item, the person working in the vestibule office can hold onto it and alert the student. If it is a smaller item such as a notebook, then a parent can simply slide it through the vestibule office window.

The ultimate goal for DHS is to have students scan into the building with their IDs. That is a technology the school plans to have in the future.

“But as a student comes in every morning or they come back from lunch, we have ourselves check for IDs at the door to make sure they have the most current ID and they are one of our students,” Hoerl said.

Both vestibules will feature walk-off carpet, which is a thicker material that is supposed to soak in water and dirt to prevent students and visitors from tracking it through the school.

The Needham parking lot was another large renovation made this summer. According to the school district, issues with the previous parking lot included a lack of space, circulation and inconvenient emergency access.

The new parking lot is designed to have a safer loading and drop-off zone. The design’s primary function is to create better circulation and avoid congestion on busy school mornings. It also provides a fire access gate to create full access for the fire department. Previously, the fire department would have to pull into the parking lot then back up toward the building creating a hassle for emergency vehicles.

The new loading and unloading zone in front of Needham Elementary School is designed to allow for a safer pickup and drop-off for school children. The design’s primary function is to create better circulation and avoid congestion on busy school mornings. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“Having a fire lane that’s legal and accommodates actual fire trucks is great news,” Alderton said. “Also, a student pickup and drop-off lane, which will stop traffic congestion and prevent pedestrian vehicle encounters on the street, will also make the school much safer.”

The parking lot renovation added more sidewalk space where the tennis courts used to be located. Pavement was also added to that area to help with rain drainage and snow removal.

“People really loved those tennis courts and they had some strong feelings about it. But we really feel the safety of our children is more important,” Sluis said.

Riley Alderton, principal at Needham Elementary School, walks through the school on Tuesday while showing off the new carpet and paint that students will see when school starts next week. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Heating ventilation and air conditioning upgrades were also made at Needham.

“Airflow is always helpful for kids and teachers,” Alderton said.

Minor renovations were made this summer to Park Elementary School. Stucco on the south-facing wall of the southeast corner was redone because of wear and tear. The south-facing windows were also replaced. In the multipurpose room, the kitchen was painted white where before it was yellow.

Students at Park Elementary School will have their lunches passed through a roll-up window without having to enter the kitchen area. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The way students pick up food from the cafeteria serving table has also changed. Students will now go through the cafeteria line without entering the kitchen area. Instead, students will be able to walk up to a serving table along the kitchen window to keep them out of the kitchen. This makes circulation easier and creates a safer experience for students.

The Park Elementary School boiler room was also remodeled. Originally, there were two boilers in one room. With construction over the summer, one boiler was eliminated and the remaining boiler was replaced with a more modern boiler.

Roofing repairs were also made to Needham Elementary, Sunnyside Elementary and Fort Lewis Mesa Elementary, while Escalante received parking lot maintenance.


New boilers are in place at Park Elementary School. Originally, there were two boilers in one room. With construction over the summer, one boiler was eliminated and the remaining boiler was replaced with a more modern boiler. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
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