The Juniper School, a charter elementary school, plans to move next year into a building in Bodo Industrial Park south of downtown Durango, abandoning previous plans to relocate to the Tech Center in west Durango.
The school had leased two buildings in the Tech Center with the intent to spend a few years in the buildings, which used to be office space. Now, the school plans to buy property in Bodo that should serve the school for decades to come, school officials told the Durango Planning Commission this week.
“This has the potential to meet the needs for 20 years of growth,” said Juniper Board President Heather Houk.
The school, which serves students in kindergarten through fifth grade, is in need of a new location because it cannot grow any more in its space above Big Picture High School on 12th Street.
Moving into the leased buildings in the Tech Center proved cost prohibitive. So now the school intends to buy 225 Sawyer Drive, the former CenturyLink building and renovate it before opening for classes in August, Houk said. The 4-acre property has space for the school to add a playground and additional buildings to accommodate students, according to the site plan.
The school searched for months before finding the property, Houk said.
“This is hands down the most exciting and has hands down the greatest potential,” she said.
The city of Durango does not have authority to approve or deny a new school site, and the school is exempt from the city’s zoning, said city Planning Manager Scott Shine. However, the Planning Commission can give the school feedback on its plans.
The commissioners did not express concerns about the new school site during the meeting.
“It seems like you have got a good plan,” said Planning Commission Chairman Joe Lewandowski.
However, in city documents, staff said it has concern about the school’s plan to locate in an area zoned for light industrial uses, an area that would normally prohibit schools.
“It’s not a great location for a school,” Shine said.
Light industrial companies tend to generate noise, emissions and traffic that can conflict with schools, he said.
Planning commissioners noted Bodo is home to other non-industrial programs, including the city of Durango’s gymnastic program.
The Juniper School expects to phase its construction on the Bodo site, according to site plans. It expects to renovate the existing building and add two modulars to serve 140 students, the school’s existing enrollment, Houk said.
In the final phase, the school could add another 10,000-square-foot building to accommodate enrollment growth, she said. The school has plans to grow its enrollment up to 240 students.
The school plans to work with parents and other stakeholders on designs for the new building, she said.
As for the leased Tech Center Buildings, The Juniper School is working on subletting the spaces, Houk said.
“We are honoring our commitment, and we are hoping to get them sublet as soon as possible, so the financial burden isn’t on the school,” Houk said.