The easiest way to understand why the new Orchard Mesa Middle School should be a game-changer for Mesa County Valley School District 51 is to see it with your own eyes.

A community open house on Jan. 15 affords anyone the opportunity to tour the just-opened school and imagine the direction our schools could be headed with a little help from property owners.

It’s a shame the school wasn’t completed before voters decided to reject the latest school bond measure to fund improvements at the district’s high schools. We think it might have changed some voters’ minds about what the district was hoping to accomplish with the $179.5 million capital construction plan.

Much of the opposition to the measure boiled down to voters thinking the budget for a new Grand Junction High School was too high. But the costs would have been similar on a per-square-foot basis to OMMS. It’s just that GJHS needs more square footage to accommodate more than twice the number of students.

OMMS offers a baseline of how new construction projects deliver value to taxpayers. OMMS won’t need patching anytime soon, so education dollars are effectively poured into instruction. The building was designed to be energy-efficient, low maintenance but durable, safe, comfortable and technology enabled.

Students who just moved into the building may experience a sense of survivor’s guilt, knowing their learning environment is better — and safer — than any other school in the district. It’s a safe bet that OMMS will begin attracting students through the district’s “school of choice” option. Before, it was losing them to other middle schools.

If you go to the open house, take note of the sightlines and the placement of more than 60 security cameras. Through video monitoring, school resource officers can see every angle, eliminating blind corners or places for would-be assailants to hide.

The classrooms feature rolling desks and chairs that allow for students to easily cluster together when an assignment calls for collaboration. Some classes have removable partitions for teachers who want to collaborate on subject matter.

So much of the design is geared toward efficiency and multiple uses of space. Even the hallways can double as learning spaces because banks of lockers were designed with a waist-high flat working surface.

OMMS is now the standard-bearer for what an enhanced learning environment looks like. Having seen the completed building, it’s hard to imagine where corners could have been cut to achieve the desired results.

“New” shouldn’t be confused with “opulent.” The district’s challenge is to help voters understand that building new schools is only worth the investment when minimum standards are applied to the project. Meeting those standards isn’t cheap, but they pay for themselves in low maintenance costs, higher achievement and the peace of mind that students are protected.

Visitors will get a chance to see how environment affects learning and how efficiency impacts resource allocation at the Jan. 15 open house. The school, at 2736 C Road, will be open to the public from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

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