The Sopris Sun

Bridges High School truly gets a space of its own

By Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Staff

As Bridges High School prepares to celebrate its 20th anniversary from 4 to 7 p.m. Nov. 3, it will also be showing off a newly renovated space tailored specifically to its needs.

Roaring Fork School District’s alternative to a traditional high school experience was originally housed in the old Glenwood Springs Middle School (now a wing of the high school) and held only in the evening. Throughout the years, it also used space at Colorado Mountain College on Blake Avenue; the district’s career center; Roaring Fork High School and what is now Third Street Center before finally moving into the old Carbondale Middle School building between Weant Boulevard, Third Street and Sopris Avenue.

“We’ve been all over the place,” recalled longtime teacher Maggie Riley. “My classroom was in the back of my Subaru for a while. “Having a permanent building is wonderful.”

And while Riley feels some nostalgia for the pre-remodel days spread across classrooms throughout the rambling structure, she understands and appreciates the need for a change.

“It’s validating,” she said. “I think it tells our kids that they matter.”

Added Principal Lyn Bair, “We were using the spaces the way they’d always been used, and our program is different.”

“Always” goes back to the ’30s for the oldest part of the building — the old Carbondale Union High on the Third Street side. Additions in the ’50s and ’80s resulted in a maze of winding hallways, split levels and dead ends.

In the process of renovation, workers uncovered bricked off stairwells, windows, the original back door and even an old bomb shelter. Perhaps the most visceral contrast between old and new were the coal drops in the center of the building, which were plugged up to finish the computer server room.

A lot was reused, including picnic tables and benches and some boulders from the Riverside School excavation for the outdoor classroom space.

“We thought a lot about what we need and really tried to be conscious of what made sense to save,” Bair said.

Moreover, the footprint of the building wasn’t altered at all, and in many cases crews were able to expand while still opening to existing structure. The new central common area, for instance, boasts a previously hidden vaulted ceiling that may once have been part of a school library.

“It was important to me that we preserve the history,” Bair said.

In addition to major alterations to the interior walls, the renovation brought everything to the same grade — “no stairs, no ramps, no nothing.” It brings unity to the space and provides easy access for the disabled, an important feature with the district’s “Ready for the World” program making the move from Basalt High School.

The school now boasts a single secure entrance on the south side of the building, with parking off Weant Boulevard. The offices and classrooms can be separated from the main foyer, gym and bathrooms to allow for after-hours rentals — stop at the office to inquire.

There’s already a well established basketball league and a new boxing program in the space.

“I’ve always said schools are the center of the community,” Bair noted.

Inside the school proper, five classrooms are arranged around the aforementioned common area, with three more support rooms in a wing of their own. The kids are encouraged to make the space fit their needs as part of a philosophy of student ownership. When people started gathering in a nook, staff installed a white board.

“It kind of flows organically,” Bair said. “Things move.”

Teacher Jill Napiwocki compared the vibe to a community college, which fits well with Bridges’ demographic of upperclassmen and fifth-or-sixth-year seniors.

“We treat them as a bit more like adults and they’re rising to the occasion,” she said. “Before, I felt really isolated. Now, if I stand at the door to my classroom I can see all my coworkers and most of the student body.”

There’s also a new kitchen, which provides fresh vegetables and fruits for snacking and a hot lunch. The prep is done at Roaring Fork High, but the Bridges kids do their own dishes.

That allows for a closed campus for most of the day. The curriculum is structured around six week units on essential questions, with customized courses like a project based look at the history of science. Students can enter the project or graduate in between each section. It’s a chance for folks who have struggled elsewhere to “learn to love learning again.”

“The students that come to Bridges have opted out themselves or been pushed out,” Bair explained. “We have to have a space the kids are comfortable in so they want to learn.”

While the open house on Friday will provide community members a chance to check out the Bridges space, learn some history and enjoy music from Electric Lemon and food catered by Aisie, not all of the work in the building is done. The district-owned structure also hosts programs like Youth Entity, Precollegiate and Bonedale Ballet and is also slated for a more centrally located school administration office — one of the last items on the agenda as part of a voter-approved $122 million bond issue.