Hundreds of students chattered excitedly as they took their seats in the auditorium/cafeteria space on their first day in the brand new Orchard Mesa Middle School.
“Take care of this school and take pride in it because it’s like nothing else in the district,” District 51 Board of Education Vice President Paul Pitton said. “You’ve got the gem of the valley here.”
The space where the students gathered to hear remarks from district officials was designed, as much of the rest of the school was, to allow for multiple uses. Single classrooms can open up into double classrooms, hall spaces can be used as study areas or additional class space. Even the benches the students sat on for the ribbon cutting are dual use, transforming into lunch tables.
“One of the biggest downsides of this school, and there aren’t very many, is there’s no more excuses,” Student Body President Max Wilson, who spoke at the ribbon cutting, said. “So if we crowd the hall we can’t blame it on the small halls. If we damage school property we can’t say, ‘Oh well, we’re getting a new school.’ We have to remember that this school is one of the best schools, I would say, in the country. That definitely comes with a responsibility for us students. We need to protect it and we need to leave this school just as beautiful as (it is today).”
The new school, which was funded as part of a 2017 ballot measure to address infrastructure needs in School District 51, incorporates many new features that were absent in the old Orchard Mesa Middle School, especially regarding security, Superintendent Diana Sirko said. It also brings in design features to enhance the learning experience, Sirko said, like larger windows that let in natural light.
“It’s an exciting moment in the history of our school district and the Orchard Mesa community,” Sirko said. “We know that a culture and climate for learning are really facilitated by the facilities themselves. It has to create a place that is attractive and bright and brings the wonderful energy that you’ll see day in and day out.”
The building, which cost $40 million, increases the size of the school significantly from around 60,000 square feet to nearly 100,000 square feet. Sirko said the school can accommodate up to 720 students, which she said would be enough to serve the community as the population increases. Currently there are around 600 students in the school, Sirko said.
All the speakers at the ribbon cutting thanked the students, staff and community for their support during the building and transition process, as well as the individuals who worked directly on the project.
A special emphasis was placed on the community, which voted for a tax increase to pay for the new school.
“None of this would be possible without the support of this amazing community,” Orchard Mesa Middle School Principal Susan Birdsey said. “We are grateful to our community for seeing the value here and voting to build this amazing environment for our learners and our teachers.”
The school is opening its doors to the community for an open house from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at 2736 C Road.