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A sigh of relief with school expansion

The “oohs” and “aahs” have been heard from teachers, parents and students alike. The newly expanded Meridian Ranch Elementary School rang in the new school year Aug. 7, and students now have a little more elbowroom.Principal Eric Paugh said the expansion project was planned to accommodate Falcon population growth, as well as boundary changes within the district.”We are excited about the opportunities this will give our kids,” Paugh said.The MRES expansion received a favorable response during an August open house. “Parents are just thrilled. This is exciting to our new families, too. It gives our kids more opportunity and more space,” Paugh said, “Students come up to me and say ‘Amazing! Wow! How do we get to our new classroom, Mr. Paugh?'”Last year, the kindergarten through sixth grade school was at 120-percent capacity with 440 students enrolled. The enrollment this year has swelled to 620 students and an additional 16 teachers, Paugh said.Because of the limited space last year, students were packed into makeshift classrooms, modulars and even closets. The art room, music room and cafeteria were converted into classrooms. The gymnasium doubled as the cafeteria. “Now we have more in actual space,” Paugh said. Teachers who taught art and music on carts last year now have their space back. The gymnasium and cafeteria are now being used for their intended purposes.Jim Walsh, D 49 construction manager, said, “Like all the schools in the district, Meridian Ranch has been bursting at the seams.”Prior to the expansion, MRES made due with 32,077 square feet of space. The project added 23,250 square feet with another 460 square feet of storage built above the gymnasium, Walsh said.New to the school are 22 classrooms, a full library, an expanded computer lab, a resource room for enrichment programs and speech therapy, preschool classes, a teacher workroom, English as a Second Language program, a math and science lab and a larger playground.The construction project went well, Walsh said, because the school is “open, completed on time and under budget.” The project cost about $3.5 million.Paugh said MRES is now the largest elementary school per square feet in the district. “All new schools in the district will follow this prototype,” he said.The design plans also applied energy efficient features throughout the new structure. Walsh said the architects built additional windows high on the wall. The day lighting includes “wings” mounted on the outside of the building that are intended to reflect light inside the classroom. The white ceilings distribute the light. A light shelf in the classroom also bounces light off the shelf onto the ceiling. Walsh said this reduces glare and keeps the kids from squinting.”The lighting impacts a sense of well being,” he said. “The staff feels better and the students want to be at school.”The classroom lights also have sensors that automatically adjust the brightness in the room depending on the amount of light that is being reflected in from outside.”Each classroom thinks for itself,” Walsh said.The new library, located at the center of the building, has been modified to feature day lighting on all four sides of the room. Skylights, vaulted ceilings and windows between classrooms in the hallway also add a touch of light. Interior classrooms have solatuve skylights that, Walsh said, cut down on glare and spread light more evenly.”The best practices today are to be thrifty and efficient,” he said.MRES received funding for the expansion project from the November 2005 mill levy increase. Paugh said the mill levy covered the construction and furnishing of the school, but not the additional staff hired to teach the new classes.The design plans were in place three years ago and “as soon as it passed we got ready to go,” he said. Construction started mid-January and was completed in July.”We’re successful if we’re not in the building when the kids get back to school,” Walsh said of completing the project in six months.Six construction projects are planned in the school district, all part of the $80.5 million mill levy increase. MRES, Falcon High School and Springs Ranch Elementary are expansion projects, while Skyview Middle School is an ongoing remodel project. A new elementary school, Odyssey Elementary, has been built, while a new Falcon high school is scheduled to open in October 2007. A D 49 high school in Colorado Springs is also slated to be built.”The community should continue to be proud of these projects,” Walsh said.Editor’s note: Eric Paugh, after this interview, left Meridian Ranch Elementary School to take a position with D 49 as an elementary learning services specialist.

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