Students help break ground on STEM Lab renovation

Monday, April 24, 2017 - 8:45am

Two-year renovation project under way

Students and staff celebrated the start of construction May 18 on a planned two-year renovation and reconstruction of the STEM Lab school in Northglenn with a groundbreaking ceremony.

“I don’t know how common it is for a groundbreaking ceremony to take place indoors,” Principal Tracy Tellinger joked of the ceremony that was forced inside because of poor weather. “But, then again, there is nothing common about STEM education in Adams 12 Five Star Schools.”

Tellinger traced the school’s beginning back to a shared three-ring binder of ideas and a vision forged with business partners even before the concept was pitched to the Superintendent and the District Board of Education.

Five Star Superintendent Chris Gdowski said that the school’s opening in 2010 came at a time of massive district budget cuts, not an optimal time to add new programs.

“To think about something new and starting a new school with new staff and new curriculum and the rest was something that I think some worried very much about,” he said. “But because there was so much passion by the teachers, and the principal and the parents who said, ‘We want STEM education. We want more problem solving and engaging work with business and other partners in the classroom with us,’ we found a way to do that.”

The STEM Lab renovation and reconstruction will take place in two phases. Phase One will involve construction and renovation to the school’s east wing and is expected to last through the 2017-18 school year. Phase Two, which will start following the end of the 2017-18 school year, will focus on the demolition and reconstruction of the school’s west wing.

The school will remain open during the construction process with students and staff shifting from one side of the school to the other during the construction phases. All construction work is planned to be completed for the start of the 2019-20 school year.

Gdowski added that the re-construction and renovation of the 46-year-old building, formerly a district middle school, required the same ingenuity that it took to start STEM Lab.

“We found a way to meet the needs of kids even in the midst of really challenging budget times. It’s really the same approach we’re taking in terms of fixing this school up,” he said. “What the state told us is if we would have built this school from scratch – torn the whole thing down and built it new – that would have cost us $42 million to make that happen. If we just tried to fix up the building and made it nice and as close to brand new as we could, that would have cost $28 million.

He said the reconstruction and renovation – estimated at an overall project cost of about $28 million – will combine the best of both worlds with additions on both sides and a renovation of existing space.

Among the unique design features of the renovated school, each classroom pod will feature flexible learning areas and LEGO®/ Maker Spaces for students to construct and test projects. The center portion of the building will include a new library, science rooms, art rooms, gymnasium, cafeteria and music rooms for shared student use. The building will also feature a new secured main entrance and a centralized administrative area. A “Building as a Teaching Tool” design philosophy will be carried throughout the design and will feature exposed building structural system and cross bracing, exposed mechanical ductwork and a viewing area to allow students to view and study information technology equipment.

The ceremony was unique aside from being indoors. In a nod to their curriculum, STEM Lab primary and middle school students used specially-designed robots to move a ceremonial mound of dirt to officially mark the start of construction.

The Five Star Schools community supported a $350 million bond question in November 2016 that is funding the STEM Lab work along with improvements at every other school in the district. Board of Education President Kathy Plomer credited the community and the volunteers who supported the bond effort with making the special day possible.

“The thanks for this new space really rests with our community - the people who voted for our bond,” she said. “That would not have happened without the people who worked so hard to get the message out that an investment in our schools was an investment in our kids, in our communities and our future.”

3890 Design is responsible for the design of the new school and both construction phases will be handled by general contractor, Adolfson & Peterson Construction.

When the school's renovation is completed it will allow enrollment to grow from 475 current students to an anticipated 675 students. STEM Lab is a magnet school with admissions managed through the district's Schools of Choice Program. Admission priority is given to in-district students and determined by a lottery system based on the district's five Board of Education Director Districts.