Building a wish list

Workshops gather ideas for new high school

The chance to build a school building from scratch doesn't come around often. With the design phase for the new Montezuma-Cortez High School looming, requests for desired amenities are pouring in.

Last week, the two owner's representatives hired by Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1 held a series of four workshops to solicit feedback from stakeholders with vested interest in the facility, due to open in August of 2015.

Jim Ketter, owner/operator of Durango-based KPMC, and Peter Robinson, owner of Robinson Construction and Design out of Mancos, met separately with the Re-1 school board, support staff (custodial, maintenance, cafeteria, transportation), community members including parents and the 3B bond committee, and M-CHS teachers.

In total, Ketter and Robinson heard responses from 58 people, which they distilled into a bullet-point master list.

The suggestions were varied, Ketter said, but a few main takeaways emerged: people wanted a building with long-term durability that was environmentally conscious, adaptable to evolving technology, a facilitator of creativity and a performance venue for the wider community.

"There is a lot of desire for this to be not only a school, but a place for community gatherings and functions. Nothing like that exists right now in Cortez," he said.

After the brainstorming sessions, the resulting document contained no less than 70 proposals covering everything from aesthetics to security, energy use to experiential learning.

The new M-CHS "must be a catalyst for future school construction," and be designed so that "in 20 years people still think of the building as new," the representatives wrote.

Superintendent Alex Carter praised the breadth of the list, but cautioned that it won't be possible to incorporate everything.

"There's no way one building can represent all of this. We'll be faced with tough decisions," he said. "This is a breathing document that will continue to evolve."

Ketter has overseen more than $500 million in large-scale construction projects during his career, including Ignacio Elementary School (also via a BEST grant), upgrades to Dolores school buildings and the Durango Discovery Museum.

Robinson has served clients in the Four Corners for at least 15 years. His wife taught at Manaugh Elementary for seven years and both sons grew up within the Re-1 system. The younger, Graham, graduated from M-CHS in 2011.

"(The district) appreciated the fact that we are local. Other firms considered were from the Front Range. We have a strong understanding and experience working in this region," Ketter said.

The four focus groups weren't the last chance locals will have to weigh in on the high school design. Once an architect is hired, he or she will hold similar meetings.

"Stay tuned. We'll be advertising those opportunities," Ketter said. "I'm hesitant to define when and where those will be until we have an architect on board, so we're in concert."

Carter said eight companies originally applied for the owner's rep position, and the list was narrowed to three finalists. After day-long interviews and vetting references, Ketter and Robinson won out.

"They would have won even without the local factor," he said.

The district listed its job posting for lead architect last Wednesday. Submissions are due by Feb. 5. The school board will choose the architect by mid-February, followed by a general contractor a few weeks later.

"We'll have the team assembled by March," Carter said.