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The Wold Why: to build equity for all students through innovative, future-oriented education design

How Peakview Academy at Conrad Ball facilitated community concerns and united an underserved Colorado school community

Serving people through the built environment is the essence of education architecture and the communities it impacts. Occasionally, a unique challenge arises when the community proves skeptical of, or even resistant to, proposed changes. Our team at Wold understands the immense impact community voices have in making or breaking a district project. When faced with this hurdle, we collaborate with the district by facilitating conversations that help everyone understand the end goals. At the start of this project, we asked the question: How do you approach this endeavor in a way that respects the community, secures buy-in and generates a wow factor at the end of the engagement?

Dwindling enrollment and need to consolidate threatened schools’ futures

In 2020, Thompson School District was facing an intense decline in enrollment in some facilities resulting in several schools operating at only half capacity. Additionally, there was a rising disconnect and inequity between the older, poorer housing areas and newer developments. The District faced a unique challenge: it needed to improve its facilities to provide quality education to its children without sacrificing or threatening community support between older and newer areas. Necessitated by the economic challenges of filling multiple elementary schools to capacity while juggling a middle school that was in desperate need of a remodel and facility maintenance upgrades, the District opted to make a change: Mary Blair Elementary, Monroe Elementary and Conrad Ball Middle School would be consolidated and merged into a new PreK-8 school.

Treasured schools that represented local history would be closing, and to many in the community, it painted the District as a local villain seeking to replace longstanding educational institutions with something unnecessary and unfamiliar. The schools set to close each had long-established communities of stakeholders with strong attachments to their schools as well as their own needs and personalities. The District faced the challenge of combining each unique school’s traits while rallying the larger community around a shared vision. There would have to be difficult conversations with community members on respecting the legacy of the schools that were set to close. However, according to Todd Piccone, Chief Operations Officer of Thompson School District, there was a genuine, vested interest among the decision makers involved to do right by the children and the community – it would just be a matter of getting everyone to buy in.

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Wold’s unique ability to navigate tough conversations proved vital

The District engaged Wold Architects and Engineers to design the innovative new PK-8 school. As initial conversations began, it became clear that Wold could help in additional ways to ensure the project's success. Through our deep expertise in designing educational facilities and a long history of working with Districts with a variety of needs, it was evident that without support from the community, this endeavor would be at risk of failing.

Our team met frequently with the District and local community to educate, build trust and create a better understanding of the why behind the project. We supported and enabled the District’s mission to provide space for community members to meaningfully say goodbye to the old schools as we embarked on the journey to consolidate. Together, we found a path toward a future in which they could contribute and help achieve the ultimate goal of opening a new school that evoked pride and set students up for success.

From securing funding to seeing Peakview Academy at Conrad Ball come to life

Following a bond in 2018, the District had budgeted approximately $5 million toward the project to divide between the three schools, making a minimal impact on overall needs. However, after careful consideration, the District decided to consolidate the funds and sought out creative ways to leverage even more.

Wold worked with the District to create award-winning grant presentations, bringing in an additional $10 million, and after the District leveraged bond premiums, bond contingencies and the sale of district-owned land to raise the remaining $7 million, around $22 million in funding had been secured. With the funding in place, Wold and the District determined the biggest impact for the community would be to focus the money and effort on Conrad Ball Middle School. Funds were allocated for the renovation and additions to the existing campus, rather than distributing funds across three schools, each of which was already struggling.

With a tight group of key stakeholders and a core planning group, every step was taken to invite the community into the planning process and help identify the ultimate goals of the project. Our team helped navigate numerous difficult and emotionally charged board meetings that sought to educate the community on the importance of the new school. We talked through the District’s motivation behind what seemed like a radical decision and thoughtfully heard the opinions, worries and wishes of the deeply invested and concerned locals. The District opened themselves up to criticism, absorbed the general commentary and eventually started to build trust with the community. Wold’s presence in these conversations gave the District peace of mind that though it may take time, they were more than capable of rallying supporters to what would eventually be a new educational sanctuary beloved by the community.

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“Between us and the Wold team, we opened ourselves up to criticism from the different communities invested, and we took those comments and started to build trust in the end goal," said Todd Piccone, Chief Operations Officer at Thompson School District. "We made sure we heard, felt and respected the emotions behind every comment and did what we could to help explain the why. Even when it got tough, the Wold team could still have a conversation and address concerns in a productive and supportive way to ensure everyone’s voices were heard."

The project completed in the fall of 2023 and includes a new outdoor learning and play environment, a welcoming lobby with a secure entry vestibule and community gathering plaza, a library and preschool and kindergarten classrooms. The team also helped to renovate areas across the building, including all additional classrooms with a brand new HVAC system, updated spaces for art and special education, a fresh cafeteria commons, new main gym and expanded auxiliary gym. Graphics and signage were also thoughtfully placed throughout the reimagined school to support the rebrand. Included in the design, serving as a testament to the team and District's dedication to community support, is a steel beam from the project’s topping-out ceremony in which students participated by signing their names on the now visible piece of unity. The new school provides a place where both students and the community are excited to be and stands as a point of pride for those in varying communities across the District.

Newsite beam topping scaled copy

The Wold Why: to build equity for all students through innovative, future-oriented education design

Wold, along with construction partner FCI Constructors, is proud to go above and beyond to align with community members to fulfill architectural needs as well as human needs. The reimagined middle school now provides innovative and inclusive learning environments for students of all grade levels from PreK-8 under the new name of Peakview Academy at Conrad Ball.

“Our ultimate goal is that Peakview Academy provides a place where both the community and kids are excited to be at and learn and that this new school creates more equitable opportunities for generational success in the future,” said Todd. “We’re proud of our work with Wold to bring together a community that was impacted by socioeconomics and successfully build something together instead of letting that tear the District apart. In the end, the thing that matters most is how people feel, and we hope the pride of graduating from this school transpires from students to teachers to the community for many years to come.”

Peakview Academy sets up the District and its students for generational success while empowering, challenging and inspiring all learners to Dream Big. Wold is extremely proud to have worked so closely with the District and community, and we hope that as proud as the community was of the schools that closed, they are just as proud to be part of this new school community.

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