Littleton district opens two new school buildings in Centennial

Newton Middle School, Ford Elementary welcome students

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Two new school buildings welcomed students Aug. 12 in Littleton Public Schools — the first in 40 years.

A new Newton Middle School building and a brand new school, Dr. Justina Ford Elementary School, both located in the west Centennial part of the district, were projects that stemmed from the bond passed by taxpayers in 2018.

“It’s always fun on the first day of school, but it’s crazy when no one has been to the school before on their first day of school,” said Teresa Burden, principal at Ford. “We had people lined up at 7:30 and doors didn’t open until 7:45. When we went out, it was like they were waiting for Disneyland.”

Ford started its school year over capacity with 660 students. It pulled enrollment from four schools: Franklin, Highland, Peabody and Lenski.

“But a lot of the kids live in the neighborhood and they were being bused to other schools because there wasn’t a school here,” said Diane Leiker, chief communications officer for Littleton Public Schools.

Building filled with amenities

Some highlights of the new Ford Elementary, at 7300 S. Clermont Drive in Centennial, include an open concept media center with cubby learning spaces; two outdoor learning spaces; and a maker space. The maker space doesn’t have an assigned teacher, rather, it is available for all teachers to design and create around what they are learning in the classroom.

The school also has a full-size gym with a rock-climbing wall and cafetorium that serves as a multi-use space for lunch and assembly. The space has pull-out bleachers that seat 300 people.

Each grade level has four classrooms and is separated into pods. Each classroom has a garage door that opens to a shared learning space to encourage cooperative learning. Flexible seating can be found throughout the school.

Ford now also hosts the district’s only autism program.

“We already know that Littleton Public Schools offers a great education to kids, so our priorities right now are building relationships with students and families,” Burden said. “We want everyone who comes here to feel like they’re a part of our family and that they will be taken care of, and heard, and valued while they’re here. And that’s a big task with everybody being new. So we are trying to strategically be thoughtful about how to build those relationships.”

The section of the school with the gym and cafeteria can be closed off to create a community center. Burden said she’s hopeful that the community will use the building for events.

The community will also be invited to tour the school on future community nights.

Old building replaced

The new Newton Middle School, at 4401 E. Arapahoe Road in Centennial, replaces a building opened in 1962 that had significant structural issues. While it wasn’t the district’s oldest building, it was deemed to be in the worst shape.

The main hallway of the new building is adorned with hand-stained wooden beams and is curved for an added safety feature.

“We can stand up here and we can’t be seen down there and if anybody’s shooting down here, bullets don’t go around curved hallways,” said Newton Principal James O’Tremba.

Safety features were highlights that O’Tremba talked about while giving a tour of the building on the second day of school.

“Safety, school shootings … you have to have those conversations,” O’Tremba said. “We want people to feel safe coming in here. We want kids to feel safe in the environment, but we want it to be a welcoming environment that isn’t just lockdown like you’re going to jail every day. And I think we’ve been able to do that here with all the safety features, yet it’s very warm and inviting.”

Much like Ford, the new Newton is broken up into grade-level pods. Each pod has a communal space with furniture specific to that grade level. And each classroom has a garage door. Every pod has two classrooms that can open to the outside. And each pod is equipped for a maker space.

All pods have staff and gender-neutral restrooms.

“We have a gender-neutral student,” O’Tremba said. “I just met with the mom and student the other day and they were very happy that we have that access.”

Cafeteria has stage

The Newton cafeteria has built-in “learning stairs” that can be used for seating and a stage as well as a variety of seating and tables including alcoves. Two large garage doors open during lunch to give students access to a large outdoor space.

The outdoor space includes a large grass field, a baseball field, a basketball court and picnic tables.

Some additional highlights include a STEM lab, an R-and-D lab and custom-designed sound panels in the band and orchestra room.

Newton also houses the NOVA program, which is a day treatment center for K-12 students with special emotional needs.

A new professional development space for the district also is housed at the new Newton building.

“We’ve never had anything like this before,” Leiker said. “This is new for the district to have a place like that and we really needed it.”

But the most impressive wing of the new Newton building is the athletic center. The oversized gym houses three full-size courts; a two-lane, 1/10 of a mile running track; a state-of-the-art climbing wall with eight lanes plus practice lanes; and garage-door access to the outdoor fields.

O’Tremba said the additional practice court will allow them to cut down the length of activities. For example, volleyball games will be able to start more quickly because teams will have a space to practice while a game is being played.

Adjacent to the gym is a fitness center that hosts brand-new Technogym equipment and heart-rate monitoring systems similar to Orange Theory. It also has its own sound system, Wi-Fi system and garage doors that can open to allow for circuit training.

The athletics wing has its own separate entrance that allows access to the lobby, gym and restrooms but not the rest of the building.

“I think tax dollars went to a great building that is designed for kids to learn in and teachers to teach in,” O’Tremba said. “It’s not just a place for kids to go to school. And it was built under budget and on time.”

A new junior stadium will be built on the site where the old Newton campus sits. It will provide additional playable surfaces for students in both district-sponsored junior varsity and varsity sports as well as club sports in the community. The old Newton building is currently undergoing abatement prior to demolition.

Littleton Schools Superintendent Brian Ewert said, “These are beautiful, state-of-the-art schools that will provide improved learning environments and opportunities for our students for decades to come.”

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