Denver Public Schools asking parents for input on future of K-8 campus

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DENVER -- On the laundry list of wants and needs at the shared Merrill Middle School and C3 Elementary School building, above all else, parents want to see improvements like air conditioning and more shared spaces.

Merrill and C3 (also known as Creativity Challenge Community) also share a campus with Cory Elementary School along East Florida Avenue a few blocks west of South Colorado Boulevard.

The C3/Merrill building was awarded $2.8 million in bond funds to make high-priority physical improvements. A team of 12 parents, teachers and principals from both C3 and Merrill volunteered to figure out how to spend the money.

According to Denver Public Schools, the funds go directly toward the shared space for both schools and does not prioritize one school over the other.

The agreed upon improvements include new asphalt on the playground, a remodel of the gym to include space for spectators, new fixtures and finishes in the restrooms and a remodel of the front entrance to the building.

“The majority of the money that we got is being spent on office renovations,” Merrill teacher Aly Nutter told FOX31.

The front office renovations have an estimated $905,000 price tag. According to DPS, the construction estimate for the office renovations falls in line with costs from other school renovation projects.

The change will allow the building to have one centralized entry for both schools. Right now, each school has a separate entrance. The new configuration will include double doors and vestibules known as “man traps” which provides enhanced security.

Nutter believes the money should be spent elsewhere, on improvements that would directly impact students.

“We would love to have a heating system that doesn’t blow cold air in the winter when it’s cold out. And also, we don’t have air conditioning and it gets really hot,” she said.

According to DPS, the bond money cannot be used for air conditioning.

In a written response to a Merrill parent’s questions about the allocations, DPS wrote, “Focused Investment funds, as directed by the Community Planning and Advisory Committee (CPAC), comprised of 75 volunteer community members from across the city, who determined the 2016 Bond initiatives to pursue, can only be used for physical improvements to the building. Air conditioning is explicitly called out as an investment that cannot use Focused Investments.”

Some parents disagree with the district's decision.

“To me, if we’re talking about what’s best for the students and what’s best for this learning environment, I don’t understand why we’re not addressing these issues and instead building and renovating office space,” parent Hazel Gibson said.

While the bond funding has become a controversial topic for a handful of Merrill parents, parents of C3 students say they are pleased with the way the money is being spent.

“I felt like it was a really great process,” said Kim Dolan, a parent who was part of the 12-person board responsible for allocating the funds. “Each school got a little bit of what they wanted and there were also some shared priorities.”

Parents from both schools agree there is still room for improvement regarding the infrastructure on campus. They shared their thoughts at a meeting Thursday night to begin developing a master plan for the Cory/C3/Merrill campus.

Wish list items included air conditioning, a new gymnasium, better use of and more access to outdoor spaces, and more work spaces for students within the buildings.

A design team of volunteers will begin to develop a master plan for the campus beginning in May.

DPS says it plans to ask voters to approve a bond in November 2020 to pay for additional capital improvements at schools district-wide, including the Merrill/C3 building.

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