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Evergreen Country Day's new home to be state of the art

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By Stephen Knapp

If most schoolchildren spend their spring days dreaming of summer, most of the children at Evergreen Country Day School will spend the coming summer days dreaming of fall.

This autumn, the students will ditch the austere temporary buildings that have sheltered them during the last three years for the beautiful functionality of the school’s new K-8 facility swiftly rising next door. Not that they have anything against temps, mind you.

“I think they’re cool, but they’re small,” says fourth-grader Layton Rogers, taking in some sun on the playground after lunch. “And the heating could be a little better.”

“I can’t wait to move into the new building,” says Layton’s classmate Shannon Temple. “If you need to go to a different classroom, you won’t have to go outside.”

While Shannon makes a valid point, the $10 million structure has more to do with providing a stable, cutting-edge learning environment than with keeping her feet dry. Since the independent nonprofit school’s founding in 1971, ECDS has led a semi-nomadic existence, moving frequently as the student body outgrew its quarters and patiently working toward a more permanent situation.

By mid-2005, with a solid pre-kindergarten facility and 11 acres of prime El Rancho real estate in hand, ECDS was ready to put down roots. In phase one, the school abandoned 14,000 square feet of rented rooms in the Bergen Village Shopping Center in favor of 25,000 square feet of modular classrooms on El Rancho Road, and began preparing for phase two — the grand, 38,000-square-foot structure rapidly taking shape in the valley below Home Depot.

“About five years ago the board of trustees recognized the need to expand our elementary/middle school campus,” explains head of school Ben Jackson, eagerly donning a hard hat and day-glow orange vest. These days, Jackson doesn’t bother inventing excuses to tour the chaotic construction site.

“Right now we have about 175 students, and we want to grow to 200. We need more room for science, music and the arts, and we need playing fields. We’re really excited about what this building will allow us to do.”

Though still a noisy maze of shiny aluminum studs and exposed ductwork shrouded in fluttering plastic sheeting, ECDS’s new home is both attractive and impressive. Soaring arches and walls of glass flank the central Great Hall, dramatically framing the pine-clad hills rising behind the temporary buildings to the east. Once emptied, the temps will give way to green playing fields, and the scene will become truly spectacular.

“We wanted to capitalize on the view,” says Mike MacIntosh, a school trustee and the man charged with monitoring construction. “We actually turned the building to get the best angle.”

An inspiring setting that can’t be seen is of little use, which makes the building’s abundant glass a particularly attractive feature. Banks of large windows give every classroom an airy, expansive quality and guarantee a daily flood of natural light.

When Jackson talks about improving the school’s arts and sciences capabilities, he’s not talking through his hard hat. A computer lab will occupy a large area on the ground floor between a full library and a spacious auditorium. In the event that all 42 computer stations are occupied, students can simply plug into the Internet at locations throughout the school or simply go wireless.

“The design of the school really supports our educational goals,” MacIntosh says. “Information technology is one of our cornerstones, because by the time these kids get into the working world, they’ll have to know the current technologies. Everything here is state of the art.”

Upstairs, a comfortable “commons” area separates the well-equipped science lab from an equally well-equipped art studio and thoroughly soundproofed music room. Across the hall, young Donald O’Connors and Ann Millers can step lively in a generous, wood-floored dance studio.

“I’m excited about the dance room,” says fourth-grader Caroline Kwula, hanging chilly with Shannon and Layton and waiting for the afternoon bell. “I take jazz and ballet, and the dance room’s supposed to be really cool.”

It is, but so is everything else about ECDS’s new facility, including its public face — a smart fusion of manufactured stone, sparkling glass and trim wood plank.

“I think it’s going to be one of the prettiest buildings in Evergreen,” Jackson says.

Scheduled for completion this July, the new building is hardly the end of ECDS’s aspirations. As planned, phases three and four call for a gymnasium and a high school wing, respectively, but a small independent school that relies on a combination of tuition, private donations, community fund-raising and foundation grants for its daily ration may have to wait awhile before the campus reaches full glory.

In the meantime, the kids study math and English and social studies in their bland interim classrooms and monitor the new building’s progress with impatient fascination.

“I really liked it when they used the crane to put the steel up,” says Layton, eyes alight. “It was huge!”

“I liked when they bombed it,” Caroline remarks, casually. Hopefully, she’s referring to the weeks of blasting it took to clear the site of stubborn granite formations.

“I just want them to get done fast so we can move in,” says Shannon, apparently not one to dwell in the past. “It’s gonna’ be awesome.”

To learn more about the Evergreen Country Day School, call 303-674-3400 or visit www.ecdschool.org.