Marvelous new digs for Ross Montessori |

Marvelous new digs for Ross Montessori

Ross Montessori School teacher Mirka Bensch, center, takes a group of lower elementary students on a tour through their new school building in Carbondale as Head of School Sonya Hemmen and Tricia Williams, director of development and enrollment for the school, look on. Wednesday was the first day of classes in the new facility, located just off Highway 133 at 109 Lewies Lane in the new Thompson Park development.
John Stroud | Post Independent

Jan. 6 has a lot of significance in the world of Montessori education.

That was the date back in 1907 when founder Maria Montessori opened the first Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House, in Rome around a new child-centered, hands-on, multi-age classroom learning approach.

It also worked out to be the date Wednesday when the 265 students at Ross Montessori School spent their first day in a much-anticipated, brand-new school building in Carbondale.

It’s a huge milestone in the 10-year effort by the kindergarten-through-eighth grade state public charter school that first opened its doors to Roaring Fork Valley students in 2004.

Since then, it has utilized a group of modular buildings that had served as the short-lived corporate headquarters of outdoor gear manufacturer The North Face in the early 2000s.

The new, 19,000-square-foot, two-story school building located along Highway 133 in the new Thompson Park development is a far cry from the hodge-podge of buildings in the multi-use C’dale Industrial Park.

“Everything is contained in one building now, so it’s much better for education to not have people running from building to building all the time,” said reading specialist Beth Nix, a Montessori teacher for 25 years, the past six at Ross.

“This has really brought the staff and the whole community together, and it’s an anchor now for the community,” Nix said.

“Plus, I can wear fancy shoes now,” she said of the luxury of being in one building all day.

Middle school students at Ross now have their own section of the school, including a coffee station where they can make cappuccino and espresso for their teachers and staff.

“They make a great Italian coffee,” said Head of School Sonya Hemmen.

Eighth-grader Nicole Peirson and seventh-grader Mercedes Lott said there’s a lot to like about having a new school building.

“I’ve been in the old school since kindergarten, so it’s great to have a new school where we’re all connected,” Peirson said. “Our old classroom was out in another building, so we had to go outside and into the main building just to get water or use the bathroom.”

“This looks like a real school, not just a bunch of trailers,” added Lott. “I’m so happy we can have this new transition.”

After purchasing the nearly 3-acre site for $1.25 million two years ago, Ross Montessori, which operates independently under the Colorado Charter School Institute, secured a $6.4 million construction loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development program.

One of the first buildings to be constructed under Carbondale’s newly adopted International Green Code standards, the new school features superefficient LED lighting and enhanced natural lighting features in each of the classrooms and shared learning spaces.

Special windows bounce light off of sloped ceilings in each room, providing more natural light and reducing the need for artificial light, explained Tricia Williams, director of development and enrollment for Ross.

“That way, teachers don’t even need to have their lights on if they don’t want to,” Williams said.

Dual light fixtures also provide the option of upward or downward lighting, or both.

“Heat in all of the rooms is all operated independently, so it’s very energy efficient,” Williams said.

A $75,000 Community Office for Resource Efficiency grant is also allowing the school to install solar panels in the spring.

The school secured additional funding from the USDA to go ahead and include two additional classrooms, another bathroom and office space that was supposed to be part of phase two, Hemmen said.

The extra space, which is to be completed this spring, will allow Ross to increase its enrollment by 50 students next year. And with a kindergarten waiting list this year of 230, that’s definitely needed, she said.

Funding also allowed for the purchase of hoop house that will be used in the school’s gardening and outdoor education programs.

The school is still raising money for the second phase of the project, which is to include a full cafeteria, kitchen, gymnasium, auditorium and more classroom space.

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