Budget, Cost Increases Pare Back Wheat Ridge High School’s Planned Improvements

THIS IS WHAT THE NEW ENTRANCE OF WHEAT RIDGE HIGH SCHOOL will look like, per a rendering found on the school’s website. PHOTO: WHEAT RIDGE HIGH SCHOOL WEBSITE

The long-overdue facelift of Wheat Ridge High School is finally about to happen. The heart of the community since it was built in 1957, its face is largely unchanged since that time. The bond money voted in years ago is being put to use at last, with the final project expected to be completed by 2025.

“Knowing that portions of the building need to be upgraded to make it more appealing from the outside is something we are eager to see,” said Jason Campbell, the school’s Athletic/Activities Director as well as an Assistant Principal. “We have plans to drastically change the exterior of the school, create a new, secure main entrance, to create a common area, get new turf and lights on the practice field, make improvements to the library and to spruce up the gymnasium. We feel like the changes will help really help to attract new students to the school as well as to give our kids and staff a feeling of having the outside of the building matching the greatness on the inside.”

Campbell is one of the strongest champions of the “one school, one community” philosophy. We have a unique situation here in Wheat Ridge in that our city has the one school to rally around. His love for the school reaches beyond the school walls.

“I am all about building community, so I will always reach out so that the greater Wheat community knows the amazing things the students and staff are doing.”

While everyone is incredibly excited about the project, Campbell notes that much of the scope of the plan has been lost to budget and cost increases.

“A big sacrifice has been the upgrades to the auditorium. We need that area to match the new look with the new entrance and commons area and library… and it just isn’t in the cards with this budget now. But it is important to know that just because we are not getting everything we want and need, our work isn’t done. We are still finding ways to make the changes.”

Campbell and Assistant Principal Jennifer Marquez are big proponents of an effort to help fund a new auditorium in the hopes of making the project complete. Marquez emphasized the importance of the role of the auditorium. 

“We want the building to become a community hub,” she said. “When new students and their families come to Wheat Ridge High, they are welcomed into the auditorium. It is one of the most important first impressions of our school. It is where families first meet their kid’s principal, it is where we have showcases and parent/teacher conferences…”

“We also would really like to host more events in the school and to be able to do so in an area that we can be proud of. We talk alot about ‘equitable practices’ here with the students and the fact that our school seems to be at the bottom of the list of upgrades… that doesn’t reflect the ideal of equitable practice and it is tough to try to explain that to the students.”

Upon touring the school with Principal Jeff Fugita, it became obvious that there is so much more to be done.

“Many of the bond dollars are going towards things that most will not see,” Fugita explained. “Maintenance things like the enormous roof, the electrical to accommodate the first new HVAC system, a secured entrance, carpet and paint… Those items are taking up a large portion of the funds.” 

While Fugita is quick to say how grateful the school is for the bond funds, he is also very transparent about the scope of needs.

“For whatever reason, Wheat Ridge seems to be one of the last projects down the line when it comes to bond fund allocations. We are originally given a certain amount of money, but as projects before us are completed and go over budget, it chips away at the funds available to us. Then, you add in the leaps in costs that have happened in the last three years and that money we still do have isn’t going nearly as far. We have had to drastically cut back on our original plans.

“We really need the entire scope of the original plan and then some. To see new schools all around us while our own building has such significant needs, it is disheartening. The students, staff and community that love this school deserve more.”

Fugita was clear in how he feels the community can help.

“Write to the school board to make those voices heard,” he said. “Ask to make Wheat Ridge High School a priority. We also are incredibly grateful for any community donations. Money sent directly to the school is spent exactly where it is intended.” 

There is also a program being formulated now that would allow the community to purchase bricks for building projects that are still needed.

In addition, Campbell explains, “We are going to have an opportunity for our community to purchase placards that would be on display in the new auditorium, similar to a brick purchase type of funding. We are really excited about that and hope to get that going in the next year. It will be great to reach out and get the community on board with future projects here.”

All of the administrators agree with the sentiment from Marquez when she said, “The heart of the school is inside the school. It is time for the outside to match how we feel about this school on the inside.” 

Fugita echoes that in saying, “Having these upgrades will continue to help feed that pride that we have here as a school community. We are incredibly grateful to the community for supporting the bond that made these and future improvements possible.”

Read upcoming editions of the Neighborhood Gazette for news on construction and new funding efforts, as well as how the funding shortfall developed after voters approved a bond issue in 2018.

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