Robotics team wins first place for project aimed at solving middle school overcrowding |

Robotics team wins first place for project aimed at solving middle school overcrowding

Front row: Makena James, Charlotte Tegtmeyer. Back row: Nathaniel Montgomery, Primo Famiglietti, Nolan Laughlin, Shea Speer, Wren Capra, and Riley Montgomery.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When the Steamboat Springs Middle School robotics team was tasked to come up with a solution that addresses a problem in their community, they chose one they deal with every day — an overcrowded school.

The project is one element of the annual FIRST LEGO League competition, for which the team won first place at the regional event in Grand Junction in November.

In preparation for the state competition in Denver on Saturday, they gave a practice presentation on Wednesday to a group assembled to solve the same problem — including the architects and general contractors who will actually be designing and building the planned addition to the middle school.

The addition is now a reality, part of the $79.5 million bond issue passed narrowly by voters on Nov. 5 to build a new school and upgrade existing Steamboat Springs School District campuses.

First, the students detailed the problem.

“We have 640 students in a school meant for 550,” one student stated.

“And there are over 450 planned new homes or housing units, so it’s only going to get worse,” another said.

A sixth grade member of the team didn’t get her own locker for two months, she said. One student was taking her advanced math class in the office. Another class is being held on the stage of the auditorium. There’s a janitor’s closet being used as a teacher’s lounge, they explained.

Passing periods, when the students change classrooms, are especially bad, the group said — “like trying to get through traffic. It’s impossible to walk through without bumping into at least two people.”

And so for their community problem solving project, they came up with a plan, designing an addition to the school that would be built in an outdoor courtyard area.

“It was the one thing they were all excited about,” said robotics team coach and parent Amanda Montgomery. “It affects them every day.” And the design process incorporated different interests from all eight of the team members, she said.

As part of their research, they talked to engineers, architects, city planners and educators.  They read the school district’s plans for expansion, newspaper articles and demographic studies.

They focused on several goals: sustainability, affordability, flexibility and quick to construct.

They walked around the courtyard and took exact measurements, so they could build a model to scale. 

One student dived into research on shipping containers and found they could build the addition at a fraction of the cost of new construction. And, he found vinyl covering could give the containers a brick look that would tie it into the rest of the building.

Another made rooftop aquaponics a key part of the design. They put solar panels on the roof and figured out a drainage system.

They designed a set of furniture that can fold into the wall and the floor, storage benches and rotating bookshelves that would allow teachers to change classroom subjects without actually having to change rooms.

Using a 3D printer, they spent about a month putting together the prototype of the addition, as well as the innovative folding furniture and dual purpose bookshelves and lockers.

During their presentation on Wednesday, they took advise from the real-life design group, like showing a blueprint of the existing building and slowing down a bit to utilize the full five minutes allotted.

While the primary element of the competition is robotics, they are also designed with a holistic approach — incorporating other requirements that get the kids to think, design and problem solve in ways that necessitate logistics, social consciousness, creativity and innovation. There is also a big teamwork component, something this particular group excels at, said Montgomery.

After they made it to the state competition last year, the team forged a close bond, she said.

At regionals, said teacher Diane Maltby, they scored “exemplary” on most categories, “with arrows pointing off the chart — I’ve never had a team score this high.”

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.

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