How do you build schools that provide a better learning experience for students and teachers?
In the process of creating three new school buildings, for a total cost of about $50 million, the Ignacio School District built them with energy efficiency, natural light, and technology to create a better experience for students.
It's far different from the buckets lining the hallway that collected water from leaking ceilings. That's what used to greet students when they walked through the door at Ignacio High School.
Ignacio principals and Superintendent Rocco Fuschetto gave the Times tours of the new buildings and talked about the different design components that went into them.
Light and energy
One of the major factors in the new Ignacio Elementary School is natural light, said Principal Karl Herr. Not only does the natural light mean less use of electricity for lighting, it also helps keep students naturally alert. Solar tubes can be opened or closed to let in the right amount of light. The windows are tinted, both to save energy during the spring and fall, but also for security reasons, Herr explained. South-facing overhangs also should help classrooms from getting too warm. On warm days, a garage-like door can be opened in the cafeteria to let in fresh air.
Energy efficiency was key, Superintendent Rocco Fuschetto said, in order to keep heating and cooling costs low. A large component of that is a geothermal energy system. Sixty-five holes were drilled into the playgrounds to a depth of 420 feet. Pipes circulate water through the earth, warming it to temperature of 55 to 70 degrees. In the summertime, the process is reversed, taking the warmer water in the building into the system to cool it off, creating a natural cooling system.
LED lighting, carbon dioxide monitors and fresh-air intakes also are part of the school's design. Lights in the classrooms automatically shut off after they sense a lack of movement inside.
The water fountains encourage students to fill a reusable water bottle instead of bringing a disposable one to school. Each fountain has a counter - one recently read that it had been used to fill 2,991 water bottles.
So the building has lots of natural light, is warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Now what?
To improve learning, there are sound amplification systems and advanced computer systems in each class, Herr explained.
The sound system allows teachers to wear a microphone that projects their voices through four speakers in each classroom.
Teacher Laura Leland said the technology makes it easier for her to teach, and she doesn't have to work so hard at projecting her voice for seven hours a day to a roomful of students.
"The kids in the front row hear me, but I know the kids in back, do, too," she said. While the system helps the hearing-impaired students who attend IES, it also helps many other students just by cutting through the background noise of a classroom and busy school. The sound systems also have been installed in the conference room and lounge for staff to use while making presentations.
A Mimeo system also is in every classroom. It's basically an up-to-date computer version of those old overhead screens, but it allows teachers to project any document or book onto the screen.
With the Mimeo screens, Leland is able to pull up something from the Internet, YouTube or her iPad and share it in seconds on the screen. She used it to track racers in the Iditarod dog sled race when her students studied Alaska.
Students also have their own laptops to use in the third, fourth and fifth grades. They leave them at school at night to be charged.
"That's pretty awesome," Leland said.
But not all of the learning features are high-tech. Comfortable seats and cushions also were built into each classroom, creating cozy reading spaces.
"We wanted to create a more relaxed atmosphere for kids," Fuschetto said. Herr said they hope that allowing the students to stretch out and be comfortable during reading times "promotes a love of reading."
Wednesday night at IES is Family literacy Night, with parents coming to school to eat dinner and focus on reading to their kids, along with literacy activities.
The nights have been more popular in the new building, said Jackie Candelaria of Pine River Community learning Center, who runs the activities.
"There is pride in the new school," she said.
Everything in the classroom for the youngest students at IES is sized for small children, from the doors that stand four feet tall to the kid-sized bathrooms that adjoin the classrooms.
Outside the kindergarten classrooms is a fenced, separate play area, and little bicycles - with no pedals - are popular for students to scoot around.
Outside, Herr gestures to the "million-dollar views" of the La Plata Mountains that are visible throughout the school.
He and Fuschetto view the new building as a community asset that they hope students - and their families - are proud of.
Up next: a visit to the new Ignacio Middle School.