The Daily Sentinel
Story by Gabrielle Porter
Photo by Christopher Tomlinson
Saturday, August 19, 2018
If the walls of Orchard Mesa Middle School could talk, they'd have a bit to say.
The school has watched 58 years' worth of students experience spelling bees and science fairs, fall in puppy love and endure first break-ups, realize that they have a knack for music or math or writing.
But for all the memories, Sam Morgan reminded his classmates Friday morning, the school has issues.
"It's old," said Sam, the school's student council president. "It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter."
The aging building is soon to go the way of the past, Sam told more than 500 students at a groundbreaking ceremony Friday morning at the site where the school's new 100,000-square-foot digs will be built in coming months using a combination of state grant funds and money from a bond issue approved by Mesa County voters last year.
"Sixth- and seventh-graders, you will probably be the first students in the new building," Sam said. "... Let's take better care of the new school than we have of the old one."
The new building, which will be built south of the school's current complex at 2736 C Road, is the only entirely new facility to be paid for with the tax package approved by voters in 2017, according to District 51 spokeswoman Emily Shockley.
District leaders identified the Orchard Mesa Middle School campus as problematic, not only because of the sewer stench from failing plumbing and an unreliable heating and cooling system, but because of its design. With more than 25 exterior doors, the school is spread over multiple buildings, meaning students have to walk outside between periods, making the school difficult to keep secure.
The new building, which District 51 officials hope to open in late 2019, will feature a more modern and safety-conscious design, add 40,000 square feet and cost an estimated $40 million, according to Shockley. Roughly $13.9 million will come from a Colorado Department of Education grant, with the remainder coming from bond dollars.
Heather O'Brien, president of the Mesa Valley Education Association, on Friday congratulated more than 500 middle-school students, teachers and school district officials who gathered to celebrate the groundbreaking. O'Brien said she and her brother both attended what was then known as Orchard Mesa Junior High School, where her mother worked as a custodian and her father worked maintenance.
"My whole family has a connection to this tired old building, which is soon going to be replaced by the most gorgeous building in the entire district," O'Brien said. "Do you know how fantastic that is going to be? Other middle-school kids are going to be so stinking jealous of you guys when they come out here to play sports."
The most recent school building constructed in District 51 was the R-5 High School and Summit School Program building at 455 N. 22nd St., which opened in 2016 a year after groundbreaking. The school cost $9 million, which Shockley said was possible because the school has no gym, kitchen, lockers or full-scale cafeteria. Before that, Chipeta Elementary at 950 Chipeta Ave. opened its doors in August 2008, a year after breaking ground.
Angela Christensen, executive director of the District 51 Foundation and another Orchard Mesa alumna, reminded students Friday that during the run-up to last year's election, the state of their school became a rallying point for boosters of the bond package.
"Honestly, Orchard Mesa became a beacon to our entire community of what can happen when we come together and we say, 'Yes,'" Christensen said. "We say 'Yes' to schools, we say 'Yes' to our future and we say 'Yes' to kids."