The building officially opens for the first day of classes on Wednesday, Aug. 26.
Those touring the earth-friendly, modern two-story 152,000 square-foot academic structure at the public unveiling on Friday were awestruck when entering the library, the focal point of the new facility. Overlooking a courtyard above the main entrance, the room features a grand western vista of Sleeping Ute Mountain.
“Wow,” a woman remarked.
“Now that’s impressive,” a man commented.
“Oh, look Momma,” added a child, pressing his face onto the glass.
A blessing and a challenge
Before praying in his native tongue, Navajo tribesman Jerry Cohoe, of Cortez, reminded the community that the completed schoolhouse was simply one step toward reaching new academic heights.
“Keep climbing the ladder,” Cohoe told current and future students.
The Rev. Leigh Waggoner, of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Cortez, also offered blessings.
“May integrity, wisdom, peace and hope be the hallmarks of this place,” she said.
But it was remarks from Ute Mountain Ute tribal elder Terry Knight of Towaoc that received the warmest welcome from the crowd. Thankful for the turnout, Knight, a 1966 M-CHS alum, recalled being teased when forced to attend the former high school during a more racially contentious era.
“This is a school that we can all be a part of,” said Knight to a round of cheers and applause.
Also offering a blessing for ancient ruins discovered on the 35-acre property was Zuni tribesman Octavius Seowtewa. Officials hope the historical site – believed to be a set of room blocks and a pit structure dating to the Pueblo II era – could be utilized as an outdoor laboratory space for the school’s anthropology course.
A beacon for education
Speaking on behalf of the Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 school district, board president Tim Lanier said it was difficult to imagine the completed project 964 days ago, when he and others stood in a muddy field at a groundbreaking ceremony on Dec. 21, 2013. The new school is the first in nearly a half-century for the district.
“I’m impressed,” said Lanier of the new facility.
Re-1 Superintendent Alex Carter said he hoped the new school at 418 S. Sligo St. would serve as a beacon for greater academic achievement. Different portions of the building were lettered for first responders in case of an emergency, but the letter F was skipped and substituted with the letter G along the wing housing science and math classrooms.
“Just like a hotel doesn’t have a 13th floor, there’s no area for F’s in Montezuma-Cortez schools,” Carter joked.
Closing the 45-minute ceremony, Montezuma-Cortez High School principal Jason Wayman vowed to be a good steward for the state-of-the-art facility, which could serve as a springboard for teachers and students to overcome academic hurdles in an uncertain future, he said.
“This building will serve as a symbol of respect that we need to have,” said Wayman. “It will remind me each day that we live in a beautiful area, and I need to take care of it.”
Equipped for engagement
Not only are each of the new high school’s 20 standard, six science and 18 specialty classrooms wired with stand-alone Wi-Fi capabilities, but they also come equipped with lesson capture software by FrontRow. Designed to help teachers deliver education more effectively and efficiently, the technology enables classroom lectures to be recorded and later downloading via a computer or smart phone.
Career-technical education classrooms were also incorporated into the design to promote a higher education and career-focused atmosphere for students interested in agriculture, fire science, culinary arts and media fields.
“We want our students to be able to walk out of here with the skills to get a job,” said Wayman.
Helping to power the new LEED Gold certified school is a 50-kilowatt solar system. And aiding to ensure that the climate is individually controlled in each classroom and throughout the building is a geothermal mechanical system.
Projections indicate the “smart building” would save some $285,000 in energy costs and another $485,000 in mechanical costs over a 30-year span.
Combining land acquisition, architectural designs, inspection fees and construction costs, the project totals almost $41.4 million. A $22.2 million Colorado Department of Education BEST grant and an $18.9 million local 20-year bond measure funded the development.