Tucked away in the southwest corner of Colorado is the town of Ignacio; it’s a unique ranching community with a Southwest flair and a small-town feel. Located within the boundaries of the Southern Ute Indian tribe, Ignacio is a cultural melting pot of diverse peoples. Serving students as far away as the Colorado/New Mexico border, Ignacio students represent diversity and unity in the halls of their three new schools. They are the Ignacio Bobcats and they have a newfound pride. Three beautifully redesigned, repurposed and rebuilt schools represent the bright future of Ignacio students.
The moment of change began in 2010 when Superintendent Rocco Fuschetto set out to revolutionize the school district and surrounding community forever. In partnership with RTA Architects, Superintendent Fuschetto started a five-year project implementing new designs for all three schools. This correlated with the district’s goal of expanding educational, athletic and fine arts programs. By providing 21st century learning spaces built on the cultural values of the community, the district gave Ignacio students the resources to thrive.
RTA’s Stuart Coppedge led the project. RTA won the bid by providing well-researched renovations, upgrades, additions and new builds for the four parcels of land. “It was very important for us to do something in Ignacio that they could be really proud of,” Coppedge explains. “In a small community, the school buildings are often times the civic buildings. That’s the place people gather as a community.” After input from a design advisory team comprised of students, teachers, parents, community members, administration and architects the big decision was made on how to move forward. The school district would build a brand new grade 6-8 middle school then renovate the existing grade 4-6 building into a Pre-Kindergarten-grade 5 school. Finally, they would combine the middle and high school buildings into a single unified high school campus. As construction started, it required commitment and patience from the community. Flexibility was needed to move the students as one project ended and another began. Ignacio was up for the challenge. The end result was three exquisite facilities that brought new life to the community.
Elementary school students are synonymous with energy, curiosity and creativity; this age group needs room to grow literally and figuratively. Their renovated and redesigned building exceeded all expectations. It is bright, colorful and spacious. A large component of this renovation was energy efficiency—keeping students naturally alert, sunshine now floods the classrooms through large windows. On warm days, the new garage-like cafeteria door allows fresh air in and connects students with nature. Common area science classrooms with outdoor patios are accessible to all grade levels. A geoexchange energy system was installed to alleviate heating and cooling costs. Holes were drilled into the playground at a depth of up to 400 feet and then pipes were installed. Utilizing the earth’s fairly constant temperature, water rushing through the pipes warms up in the winter months and is cooled down on hot days. This created a natural heating and cooling system for the building, which received LEED Gold certification.
In August 2013, the Ignacio Middle School threw open its doors to 6th, 7th and 8th graders. Similar to the elementary school, energy efficiency was a top priority and RTA Architects utilized passive solar design strategies, which included rooftop solar chimneys and south facing glazing. Interior features incorporated exposed wood structure, beetle-kill pine finishes and a glass overhead garage door to the student plaza. With new Colorado High School Sports Association-approved fields and gyms the Bobcats can now host local and regional tournaments. There is also space on the property for a local agricultural program that connects students to a traditional way of life in southwest Colorado.
The final ribbon cutting was at Ignacio High School on August 15, 2015. The high schoolers had been housed in the elementary school so this was one of the most anticipated openings in the district. The renovated high school included a performing arts auditorium with theatre seats, a spacious cafeteria that opened to a courtyard and a gym that featured separate weight and training rooms. Improved student security was a top priority for the new building. It now has a centrally located office with a vestibule that allows staff to visually verify and buzz in all visitors. Southern Ute Bear Dancing photos adorn the hallways, reflecting the cultural integrity of Ignacio students. “Ignacio is such a cool little community. It’s not my goals and aspirations, it’s theirs. We try to design the buildings as if they were the architects,” Coppedge explains. “It’s a sacred trust to us to go and work on their facilities. You are doing things that physically reflect the people in the community.”
Bio: Jamie McAfee is a freelance writer, educational activist and regular contributor to the New West Publishing family of magazines.
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