The Aspen Community School is about a half-million dollars on its way toward a $4.9 million fundraising goal to match a state grant and overhaul its Woody Creek campus.
The initial contributions to the campaign were announced Wednesday, as the school launched its “I Believe” campaign. Last month, the school won a competitive $4.2 million Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant from the state. But school officials must raise $4.9 million in matching funds by May 1 in order to accept it.
“The energy has been palpable,” said Skye Skinner, director of the nonprofit Compass, which operates the Community School, of the fundraising push at a playground press conference.
The bulk of initial donations to the public charter school came from the Aspen School District, the Compass board and school volunteers.
The school district gave $240,930 to the Community School on Wednesday, made up of land dedication fees collected by Pitkin County for public schools.
“We are delighted to continue to be a partner with the Aspen Community School,” said district superintendent John Maloy, who has championed the school for a BEST grant to state officials.
Donations from the Compass board and volunteers already have totaled $261,000.
The Community Office of Resource Efficiency (CORE) gave a $27,500 grant to the campaign, to be used for efficiency upgrades in the campus overhaul.
The campaign has hired Virginia Newton, former head of Roaring Fork Leadership, as its campaign director.
School officials are hoping to expand facilities by about 5,000 square feet, in order to accommodate its 127 students, while maintaining its tradition of small class sizes, experiential education, cross-age mentoring and integrated arts programs. The school was built in 1970 to accommodate just 80 students. The plan would add 31 percent more building space to a school with a student body that’s grown by 59 percent since its founding.
“Our campus has not grown along with us,” Compass board president Melanie Muss said as students swarmed a jungle gym behind her.
School principal Jim Gilchrist characterized the Community School as “one of Colorado’s highest performing schools in one of Colorado’s poorest performing facilities” and offered some statistics to back up the claim.
Community School students regularly out-perform the rest of the state, most recently with reading scores 24 percent, and math scores 28 percent above the state average. It has received state and national recognition for its excellence, including the Kennedy Center National School of Distinction Award.
Meanwhile, Gilchrist noted, the campus facilities have ranked the Community School near the bottom 1 percent of schools in the state, its campus ranking 24th to last out of 1,689 public schools in Colorado.
On a tour of the school, Gilchrist pointed out steel reinforcements installed to keep its log walls standing, and noted that he and other staffers plunge the school’s overburdened toilets about three times a day.
The fundraising campaign is aimed to build upon long-standing community support for the school. Eighty percent of student parents already give donations to the school, Gilchrist said, along with 100 percent of the staff. There is no tuition to attend the K-8 public charter school, but it thrives on fundraising for its operations.
“Community involvement has been a hallmark of this school since it was built in 1970,” Skinner said.
While the race is on for the school to raise $4.9 million by May, officials will have to exceed that mark by $2.5 million in order to meet the cost estimates of its overall campus master plan. Due to BEST’s guidelines, the school cannot use the public funds to make upgrades to some areas of the campus, like its private pre-school, its nonprofit’s administrative offices and its employee housing units. The total “I Believe” fundraising goal is $11.6 million.