By cvlopez | firstname.lastname@example.org
THE first coat of paint is being applied to the interior walls as North Conejos School District Superintendent Curt Wilson moves through the new Centauri High School on a recent October morning.
The visibility of the new school off Highway 285 has been teasing La Jara and surrounding communities of Manassa, Bountiful and others since building began 16 months ago. It’s a beautiful construction site to see on the southern end of the San Luis Valley, a new two-story high school for the Falcons that’s long been in the making.
“¿Como esta, primo?” Wilson says as he greets construction crew members on a breezy morning. There’s particular pride that the new high school is being built with some local hands that are part of the on-site crews hired by the general contractor, Bradbury Stamm Construction.
“On budget and on time,” Wilson continues to tell a visitor, as he walks through the nearly 70,000-square-foot-building, pointing out the new administration area and then the new art room.
“It’s humbling, honestly,” he says of the new school building. “Just to be a part of this my entire life, in the same area, and now to see this come to fruition is awesome because I’m so excited for the kids.”
NOW in his ninth year as superintendent and 31st year working for the North Conejos School District, Wilson moved into the area with his family after his dad took a job as a teacher and a coach when he was one year old. He graduated from Adams State, became principal of Centauri High, and in 2014 was named Colorado Principal of the Year.
He has dedicated his career to the school district and the kids growing up in La Jara and the surrounding Valley, inspired by the example set by his great grandmother and grandfather, Maw and Pa Wilson, and their service to the kids of the La Jara area.
But one project he knew the school district needed most had eluded him and the community for years: a new high school and an accompanying landscaping project that could alleviate the traffic problems associated with having a busy, hectic schedule of events right off the highway.
“It was certainly due,” Wilson says, “and we’re grateful for the people that passed the bond and realized it was time to do something really special for our students.”
Funded through a bond issue passed by voters and Build Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant money from the state, the building is two stories, with the main entrance on the west end, away from the highway. That’s the area you can’t see from the highway, and the part of the project that will bring the entire campus and community together with its landscape design.
When you walk in, a large library and technology room with 12-foot ceilings is situated just up the stairs on the second level overlooking the campus to the west. When the new high school is finished, the old high school will be torn down to make way for parking and a traffic design that will help move vehicles south onto Highway 285 more smoothly and cohesively than the bottleneck and safety hazard that currently exists.
On the south end of the building are the main gymnasium and auxiliary gym. When you step inside, the pride of Centauri will resonate through with insignias, the school fight song, and other graphic designs, intended to fill the heart with Falcon spirit.
“We have so many tournaments and activities like band that this is necessary for the way our school district functions,” Wilson says of the twin gymnasiums. “We have so many sports and activities that go so late at night. We have kids having practices from 6 to 9 o’clock, getting home late. A lot of students come from out of the district with extensive travel.
“The auxiliary gym will also relieve the pounding we’re taking on our middle school gym, so this was one of the designs to alleviate a lot of the dangers for kids.”
The school building also works as a community center and resource for the greater good, something that has always been true for La Jara and other towns across the San Luis Valley. The COVID-19 pandemic has kept the school district so far from giving community tours so residents can see the progress and feel the pride building as finishing touches start to make the new high school feel even more real.
Wilson is standing in a far north room of the building on the second floor looking toward Mount Blanca. It’s his favorite view in a school filled with great views of the southern end of the Valley landscape.
“People are excited, they are. Obviously they get a good view going by the highway every day, so they’ve seen this since the inception of tearing the parking lot up. I wish we could give more inside tours with the public to be able to see this, but we need to protect them from COVID, because obviously if we have something go down here it would put us behind schedule, and we certainly don’t want to do that.”
It’s testament to Wilson’s sharp focus on the project and meeting community expectations that keeps the $30 million new high school project “on budget and on time.” Come spring, when the ground unfreezes and the Valley begins to bloom again, the building should be completed, and demolition of the old school starting to make way for the new landscaping on the west end.
“We’re trying to put something together that will last our community a long time. Our community, our students, our kids, they deserve it. We have excellent academics, excellent activities, it’s going to be put to great use,” says Wilson.
When the community is finally able to visit the new Centauri High, Falcon spirit is sure to soar.