by Larry Joseph Calloway

After a delightful ribbon-cutting, the new Moffat Consolidated School is now open for classes from preschool through 12th grade. It’s a friendly and secure digital-age complex attuned to the harsh climate of the San Luis Valley.

It has energy-efficient solar heating and natural cooling.

It has operable north-facing windows in all classrooms.

It has innovative solar-tube skylights and LED lamps throughout.

The wide main entrance opens onto a sunny patio with planters.

The gym has a regulation basketball court and risers that can seat 250.

The cafeteria converts into a theater with a stage and a screen on one side and a 40-foot hangar door to the gym on the other side.

The wood and metal shops are soundproofed and safety-ventilated.

The library has a glass-enclosed quiet room with an array of computers.

Since this is a traditional public school, most learning will be in the long classroom wing – with preschool, kindergarten and elementary students on the first floor and mid-school and high school students on the second floor. The upper classrooms open onto wide balcony and a south-facing wall of solar glass.  A computerized ventilation system brings in night air to draw heat from the polished concrete floors and interior concrete block walls for cooling in warm seasons.

The long days of desks in rows confronted by screechy blackboards are over, of course.  Secondary math teacher Lori Lovato was exploring her room on dedication day. With the help of an early student she tried out arrangements of the parabolic desks that can be grouped or individualized. Like the other academic classrooms hers has a white board in front with an overhead digital projector. She said the wireless system will make it easy for her to use a digital tablet to demonstrate problems on the screen or project pages from electronic textbooks.

The wide halls are furnished for socializing, and video monitors everywhere are set up to show student creations as well as official notices.

Security was a foremost concern in the design. Outside doors are electronically locked during school hours, when the only accessible entrance or exit is a single security door within direct view of a desk in the main office with a buzzer.

The opening speaker at the ribbon-cutting on August 7 was Sage Brown of Crestone. As head of the elected school board for nearly 10 years she has presided over the creation of both the Moffat Consolidated School and the Crestone Charter School. “We are blessed with two fine schools,” she said. The small rural district has just published a color brochure on this theme that every local real estate agent will want to have a stack of. “We have two recently built schools that provide families the freedom to make unique learning choices,” it says.

Angry competition between the agrarians of the valley floor and the spiritualists of the foothills for per-pupil state school funding began with the contentious founding of the charter school nearly 20 years ago. The old district school board undermined it. Crestone voters responded by recalling the school board. Under peacemaker Sage (known by her first name), the district taxpayers approved a bond issue for the $5.6 million green-designed charter school, which opened in 2013.

Planning for the equally state-of-the-art Moffat Consolidated School began that same year against a chorus of old graduates who saw nothing wrong with saving a few million by fixing up the original red brick edifice, built in phases starting in 1921. The board and administrators answered with pictures of crumbling foundations, dripping pipes and twisted wires. The added district bond issue for the $17.6 million campus was approved by taxpayers that November.  (Alums were not forgotten. Interior design incorporates bricks from the old school and boards from its memory-soaked gym floor. The historic trophy case, with contents, has a place of honor at the entrance.)

The Crestone Charter School is at capacity, 95 students. The Moffat School so far has about 100 with a capacity of 250 when classroom dividers are shut. District transfers are allowed in Colorado.

Property taxes alone could not have funded either project. Both received about three-quarters of their construction money from a Colorado Lottery program called BEST. Of the 63 project applications in 2013 Moffat’s was among only four winners.

At the ribbon-cutting, Superintendent Kirk Banghart emotionally applauded the school board, the bond committee, the design committee, the contractor and the architect of the steel, glass and wood-beam building. “It’s not a square box. It’s something that speaks to who we are,” he said.

A student speaker, Joedeelee Rigdon, said, “This new school shows how much our community cares about us. . . . We won’t have to worry about the water not working or the floors sinking beneath our feet.”

State Sen. Larry Crowder presented an American flag and a Colorado flag for the staff at the entrance. They had been flown in honor over the Capitol for a few days.

Finally, scissors were passed out to a swarm of excited children, who helped the grownups cut the ribbon guarding the entrance.

Douglas Abernethy of RTA Architects in Colorado Springs said his project was finished on time and on budget by the contractor, DSI of Salida.  “This doesn’t look like any other building we’ve ever done,” he said, adding later that the district’s design advisory committee in 10 productive meetings “inspired us.”  What’s the most unique thing? After some thought he said it’s probably “how this building takes advantage of daylight and the view.”

The view from a picture window at the end of the classroom wing frames the Crestone Mountains. It is fitting that a window at the main stairs of the Crestone Charter School frames the valley floor.