Sleeping Giant School awakens
The $52.5 million building west of Steamboat Springs was finished early, under budget and ready for the start the 2021-22 school year
Sleeping Giant School awoke Tuesday as buses pulled up to the curb out back, and students walked into the front doors of the first new school built in the Steamboat Springs School District in 40 years.
The conversation of adding a school in the district has been ongoing for nearly a decade. In 2015, voters said “no” when the district asked for funding to build a new high school. After that defeat, Superintendent Brad Meeks said the district reorganized to figure out what it was the community wanted. In 2018, they tried again, with a plan that would update each of the schools in the district and build Sleeping Giant to serve pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade student. This time the voters said “yes.”
“It took everybody to make this happen, so everybody has got a piece of this,” Meeks said.
Monday, the district hosted an opening ceremony and ribbon cutting for the school that saw a large crowd of parents, children and other community members seated out front of the new school that has been taking shape to the west of downtown Steamboat for the past 16 months.
“None of this would have been possible without the Steamboat Springs taxpayer,” said School Board Vice-President Katy Lee, who served on the design advisory group for the school. “We are so fortunate that you value public education, and this project exemplifies the spirit of Steamboat Springs. We hope Sleeping Giant makes you proud to support the district.”
The $52.5 million school was finished ahead of the original early-September completion date and under budget, said Colleen Kaneda, owner’s representative for the district.
Kindergarten and sixth-grade students had their first day in the building Monday, but Tuesday was the first day Principal Jennifer Malouff had a “full house.”
Middle school students just walked right into school for what Malouff called a “self-start” to the day. Elementary school students lined up with their new classes near the schools “kiss-and-go” lane in front of the building, where parents can drop off students.
But the proximity of the school to the western neighborhoods of Steamboat II, Heritage Park and Silver Spur has many students walking to school for the first time. That is something Brittney Friesell never imagined for her two children when they moved to Steamboat just before the bond measure was placed on the ballot.
“It’s really fulfilling,” Friesell said about voting for the measure and eventually seeing the school on the horizon near her Silver Spur home.
Friesell’s husband, Quint, served on the design advisory group for the school, and she said walking through the building was memorable.
“It was special for him to see the thoughts that they had put out to the planning and seeing that coming to fruition,” Friesell said. “Being here for that full circle, it’s rewarding.”
Her favorite part of the school is the mural and the main gathering space in the center of the building. Friesell’s children love the media center on the second floor that features panoramic views of the Yampa Valley.
Third-grade teacher Susie Gruben was also on the design team. She said they started by talking about what kind of school they wanted. They selected ideas they saw online and toured a few new schools across the state. They also thought about what they were missing at other schools in the district.
For example, Gruben, who came from Strawberry Park Elementary School, said students who may need more focused help sometimes end up in the hallway to do work. At Sleeping Giant, shared breakout rooms were created in each classroom. This design element is meant to give the school a safe and inclusive feel for students, Gruben said.
Topographical lines, mountains on the walls, river rocks and aspen tree trunks are some of the school’s design elements meant to bring nature into the school, Gruben said.
“That was all part of bringing nature inside so that the kids could be inspired, which is so special,” Gruben said. “It was fun to be a part of the process.”
Malouff interviewed for the job as principal at the new school in March 2020 when students were sent home because of the pandemic. Tuesday was her first day with a full school of students again.
Her first priority is establishing the culture and climate in the school. Staff at the school gathered seven different days over the past two months to come up a theme for this school year.
“They decided on belonging and making this feel like a home,” Malouff said. “The idea is that every kid knows every teacher in this building. We are not a separate elementary school and a middle school. … That to me is the definition of belonging, and we’re going to work hard for it.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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