Design Concepts chosen to design landscapes for nine schools funded by the Colorado Department of Education’s BEST Program

Lafayette, CO...August 15, 2012 - 

Design Concepts, an award-winning community and landscape architecture firm in Lafayette, Colorado, is pleased to be the landscape architect and planning partner for nine high-profile school projects funded by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE)'s BEST (Building Excellent Schools Today) Program for capital school construction. 

The BEST Program is a competitive grant program available to public school districts and other educational institutions in Colorado. Administered by CDE's Division of Public School Capital Construction Assistance, the BEST Program aims to alleviate school health and safety concerns and provide first-class, high-performing, 21st -Century facilities. 

Since it was enacted in 2008, the BEST Program has funded 147 projects in 94 Colorado school districts, with $674 million in grants awarded for construction needs, including new and renovated schools and campuses. Most grants are for rural schools built in the 1950s through 1970s with problems such as substandard construction, deferred maintenance, asbestos, and wasteful energy systems. Many of the schools span preschool or kindergarten through grade 12, reflecting a trend toward consolidation of schools to achieve more efficient uses of resources. 

The BEST Program "is such a huge benefit for rural districts that could not have afforded new schools and site improvements any other way," says Carol Henry, Design Concepts principal in charge of planning the landscapes for five projects. "The BEST schools give a new and distinct character to the schools and community." The K-12 schools also often double as a community center and provide the community's only safe playgrounds and parks, she says. 

Design Concepts has partnered with architecture firms for nine BEST Program projects: 

•Sangre de Cristo PK-12 School in Mosca, with klipp.gkkworks in Denver, open August 2011
•Center K-12 School in Center, with klipp.gkkworks in Denver, August 2012 opening
•Holly PK-12 School in Holly, with RTA Architects in Colorado Springs, 2013 opening
•Fairplay K-12 School in Fairplay, with Larson Incitti Architects in Denver, 2013 opening
•Idalia K-12 School in Idalia, with Wold Architects and Engineers in Denver, 2013 opening
•Big Sandy PK-12 School in Simla, with SLATERPAULL Architects in Denver, 2013 opening
•Prairie PK-12 School near New Raymer, with klipp.gkkworks in Denver, 2013 opening
•Eagle County K-8 Charter Academy in Eagle, with Larson Incitti Architects in Denver, 2013 opening
•Colorado's Finest Alternative High School in Englewood, with SLATERPAULL Architects in Denver, 2014 opening 

The Holly PK-12 School in Holly, a farming town located nine miles from the Colorado-Kansas border, is a new school located on the existing campus. The site design was based on the form of crop circles as seen from satellite images. Geographic themes include Holly's location and agricultural contributions to the state, U.S., and world. The campus includes two playgrounds and outdoor classrooms next to the kindergarten and art rooms. It also will be used by the community as a park, with a trail system including a memorial walk. 

"Design Concepts did a great job of balancing the rural esthetic with the school district's design requirements, " says Doug Abernethy, RTA Architects' project principal. "They designed appropriate outdoor learning environments for all the age groups in the school." 

The Idalia K-12 School in Idalia, also nine miles from the Colorado-Kansas border, north of Holly, involved building a new K-12 school and renovating the existing gym. Working with a team led by Wold Architects and Engineers in Denver, Design Concepts is planning a new prekindergarten playground with play equipment, a sand play pit, and a courtyard appropriate for community events. 

"Design Concepts has a good understanding of rural schools and working within a fixed budget," says Aimee LaLone, project manager for Wold Architects and Engineers in Denver. 

"Working with the rural communities is such a rewarding experience because they are all very excited and motivated by getting a new school that serves their needs and those of the surrounding community," says Shanen Weber, Design Concepts principal in charge of the Holly and Idalia projects. 

The Big Sandy K-12 School in Simla is located on a new site on the western edge of town. The 33-acre campus includes high-quality play equipment moved from the previous school site. 

Colorado's Finest Alternative High School in Englewood is an existing alternative high school currently located in a school that is overcrowded and not suited for high school use. A new school and campus on the existing site will feature a larger building that is better suited to 21st -Century education, as well as an improved site plan, parking, and proximity to public transportation. 

"We've appreciated Design Concepts' partnership in creating safe and healthy environment for kids," says Adele Willson, principal at SLATERPAULL Architects, the lead firm for the Big Sandy and Englewood projects. 

All BEST schools must meet standards related to sustainable and healthy environments established for national certification at the Gold level in the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program or Verified Leader level in the Colorado Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CO-CHPS) program. The landscapes, like the building architecture, are designed to use energy and water efficiently. "Water conservation is so important because these locations often have such limited rainfall and plant palettes," says Henry. All of the projects have automated irrigation systems with appropriate plantings for the region, such as ornamental grasses and other native and xeric plants that require minimal irrigation.