Todd Ficken, project manager for the Steamboat School District's construction projects, looks at plans Thursday on the second floor of the new Soda Creek Elementary School. The area overlooks what will be the school's cafeteria, auditorium and gym.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Todd Ficken, project manager for the Steamboat School District's construction projects, looks at plans Thursday on the second floor of the new Soda Creek Elementary School. The area overlooks what will be the school's cafeteria, auditorium and gym.

Soda Creek taking shape

New elementary school features broad arcade, roomy feel and a fireplace

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Soda Creek Elementary School

Steamboat Springs School District project manager Todd Ficken discusses the new Soda Creek Elementary School.

Steamboat Springs School District project manager Todd Ficken discusses the new Soda Creek Elementary School.

— The new Soda Creek Elementary School is nothing like its predecessor.

The ceilings are higher. The hallways are wider. There are no pillars in the middle of classrooms. There's a broad arcade, a teacher's lounge and a teacher's workroom, a community room for after-school programming and even a fireplace with a two-story vent.

As snow fell Thursday on Park Avenue, workers, power tools, portable heaters and hanging wires filled the unfinished structure, now mostly concrete and steel. But it was easy to see future classrooms and offices taking shape, along with a gymnasium, a library and spacious classrooms with cabinetry already installed.

Todd Ficken said he is proud of the work done so far.

"Schools are public buildings and are publicly funded," he said during a walking tour of the facility. "Our company takes it very seriously. Personally, I get a lot of satisfaction out of a school because of the degree of responsibility it carries."

Ficken is executive director of the Niwot-based engineering and management firm F&D International. He also is the Steamboat Springs School District's project manger for jobs including construction of Soda Creek and the expansion of Strawberry Park Elementary School.

Local voters approved funding for the two school projects with a $29.7 million bond issue in November 2006. Construction of the new Soda Creek broke ground in July 2007. On Thursday, Ficken said the new school should be ready for state building inspections in the middle of August, with student occupancy planned for early in the 2008-09 school year.

But Ficken doesn't want to rush students into the building.

"We're not pressured to put students in there right away," he said. "We want to do it in a controlled manner."

Ficken said he is planning day trips to the new building for Soda Creek students at the temporary school, dubbed "Camp Soda Creek," just down the street.

Before students move permanently, Ficken said, he wants to fine-tune the landscaping, painting and other features of the new building after construction is complete.

"We want to get it perfect," he said.

Familiar feel

Walking in the front entrance of the new Soda Creek will remind people of Strawberry Park and Steamboat Springs Middle School, Ficken said, because of Soda Creek's open, two-story arcade.

"When you walk in, you can see all the way through to the other end (of the building)," he said.

The new entrance will be accessed from Crawford Avenue, which Ficken said will be re-designed. The school's eating area, library, gymnasium and kitchen will be part of or accessed from the arcade, which the teacher's lounge will overlook. Two stories of classrooms and offices fill the building's other half.

Ficken said the building's brick and stone exterior could be completed in two weeks.

Steamboat Springs School Board member Denise Connelly, visiting the site Thursday, complimented the exterior design. Connelly also praised the future fireplace, which will rise from the ground floor near the middle of the arcade.

"I can just picture teachers telling stories to kids on a nice spring day like this," she said, smiling at the May 1 snowfall.

Strawberry Park on track

Ficken said the 18,000-square-foot, 12-classroom addition to Strawberry Park also is on track for building inspections in late summer and occupancy near the beginning of the 2008-09 school year.

He praised the work of Haselden Construction superintendents Brian Hunt and Lenny Brown, who Ficken said kept the projects on track through a difficult winter. Hunt is leading the Soda Creek construction, and Brown has the helm at Strawberry Park.

"This is a tough site," Ficken said of Strawberry Park. "We're in a low-lying area and the soil is different here. It's expansive."

Ficken said that unlike some large commercial construction projects, he realizes there is little room for financial maneuvering when building one school and expanding another.

"It can't go over budget," he said. "You can't just sell more widgets to make more money."

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