Pupil speaks  of gratitude  for support

Phoebe Bair, student body vice president at Orchard Mesa Middle School, and Orchard Mesa teacher Kevin LaDuke, far right, spoke at the School District 51 update after the first year of voter-approved upgrades.

School District 51 leaders are celebrating the difference a year can make while also looking forward to a long list of school construction and upgrades they still want to get done.

One year ago, Mesa County voters approved a $118.5 million bond measure for a new Orchard Mesa Middle School, two gyms, new technology and widespread school repairs. Voters also approved a $6.5 million annual tax increase for five additional school days, curriculum, technology support and more. The differences since then are tangible, district leaders and former campaign officials said at a community meeting Wednesday night.

The impact is evident in the new auxiliary gym at Palisade High School, which will give hundreds of student athletes another place to practice when it opens in February — hopefully avoiding those 5:30 a.m. freshman basketball practices, said Palisade athletic director Gregg Hawkins.

The impact is in the 9,068 new Chromebooks in students' hands this year, and in the middle and high school English curriculum that was updated for the first time in 17 years.

"While you can place a dollar amount on some of these items, the impact that they're having on students and teachers is priceless," said curriculum director Melissa Turner.

Approximately $23 million of the $118.5 million bond has been spent so far, said project manager John Potter of the Blythe Group, with another $22 million in repairs and construction at 20 schools scheduled for next summer.

While Orchard Mesa Middle School student Phoebe Bair will already be in high school by the time the new building opens in December 2019, she said she's happy to be a part of the school's legacy.

"Being able to know that this middle school is being built for future generations is the best gift I could have right now," she said. "When you are in school you should have an amazing learning environment, not just with the students and teachers but with the school itself."

School board President Tom Parrish closed the celebratory meeting with a call for attendees to stay involved with the district. Nearly half of District 51's schools are 44 years old or older, Parrish said, and school board members and community groups are currently trying to prioritize those needs.

"It's really rewarding to see what a community can do for its children when we all get on the same page and say, 'This is what we need to do for our students,'" Parrish said. "I encourage you to look forward, because we're all going to have the opportunity to come together again to move another initiative forward, because we've got to look at what we have to do with our facilities."

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