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NEW SUNSET PARK AND FRANKLIN ON THE WAY

A new Sunset Park Elementary and Franklin School of Innovation are on the way.

A small worksite sets adjacent to the exterior of Franklin School of InnovationIn December 2021, the start of demolition of vacated portions of the existing buildings signaled the start of new construction. Like the new builds at East and Centennial, the projects will see the new buildings erected and ready for occupancy before the existing structures are fully demolished.

With Nunn Construction serving as the general contractor for both projects, it’s expected that the new Sunset Park and Franklin will be ready for occupancy by Fall 2023.

Originally, the two schools were slated to be renovated with funds from the 2019 bond. But with the District receiving not one but two substantial Building Excellent Schools Today grants from the state, those funds – coupled with the earmarked bond funds – allowed for the new construction.

Both of the new schools will follow a similar design arrived at with input from stakeholders and the school community, with the color schemes corresponding to those currently in place in both buildings.

For Franklin Principal Dana DiTomaso-Junkman and John Hull, Principal of Sunset Park, the impending arrival of the new schools comes with a sense of excitement.

“I’ve been part of the whole process of planning and designing,” Principal DiTomaso-Junkman said. “We’re definitely making sure it’s very, very Innovative and conducive to our Project Lead the Way, which we launched this week.

“And it’s going to be very beautiful.”

Alisha Lamas is a math tutor and parent of a Bobcat who was part of the community stakeholder design team. 

As did her father, Alisha graduated from Franklin.

“A lot of my input centered around how we’re going to move forward with our Innovation, making sure we have enough room for all the new Project Lead the Way technology,” she explained. “There will be a lot of room for not only the technology, but for group and breakout activities.”

Alisha’s son David, a proud Bobcat, said he is excited for the arrival of new classrooms.

“The first thing I’m going to do when the new school opens is go exploring,” David said. Second Grader David Lamas holds up a poster board showing the concept of his new school

For some Belmont residents, or who have deep ties to the 67-year-old school, the beginning of the demolition brought with it a bittersweet taste.

“At first, it was kind of hard watching a part of the building fall,” Principal DiTomaso Junkman said. “Puebloans are very tied to their schools. But they also realize it’s time to make way for new. I’ve had a lot of former Franklin teachers reach out to me to say, ‘Please remember to save me a brick,’ or ‘Make sure you keep me posted.’

“As people keep telling me, Franklin was definitely known as the crown jewel of Belmont, because when they opened this building in 1954, there was nothing else around it.”

The new school will retain a bond with its past through the color scheme.

“The colors are more aligned with what they were in 1954,” Principal DiTomaso-Junkman said. “Over the years, it’s shifted from Evergreen and gold to more of a Kelly Green and yellow, but we’re excited to bring it back to the Evergreen and Gold, with the Gold being a nod to East High School, as we are one of its ‘feeder’ schools.”

One of the features of the new school will be an aesthetically pleasing park with Colorado-type vegetation, to be built where the front entrance now stands. In the new build, the front entrance will face the West side of Concord Lane. 

Although Alisha Lamas has fond memories of her time as a student at what was then Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, she recognizes that it’s time to make way for the next generations of Bobcats.

“The fact that we’re getting a new school shows growth and movement, and that means our side of town is growing and is moving into the future,” she said. 

With a new residential development underway near Colorado State University Pueblo, it’s expected that attendance will increase once the new school opens. The fact that Franklin is now part of the Project Lead the Way pathway will be another draw.

 A small construction site sets adjacent to Sunset Park's exteriorAcross town at Sunset Park, the start of demolition and the narrowing of a portion of University Circle to one lane for the installation of a new water line has necessitated a change in the student drop-off format.

“We have about 400 kiddos here and almost of all of them get dropped off,” Principal Hull said. “And due to the new construction, we’ve completely reversed the drop-off, because based on road closures on University Circle, it would have sent every single parent into the Vassar Avenue intersection, which has no stop.”

Parents can now exit the drop-off area by turning left or right on University Circle or going straight onto Rutgers Avenue.

“It gives us a lot more opportunities to get folks out of the drop-off/pick-up lane in a smooth manner, and not send them into a bottleneck that historically has been a problem,” Principal Hull explained.

Another improvement that will come with the new building is a prominent front façade and entrance.

“Now, guests who pull into the main parking lot are looking at dumpsters,” Principal Hull explained. “And to not have that be the very first thing folks see will be very nice.”

Now in his 18th year leading Sunset Park, Principal Hull admits that the thought of finally leaving the current building leaves him feeling a bit bittersweet.

“This building has been really good to a lot of the Pueblo community and the South Side,” he said. “We’ve helped support a lot of leaders who have come out of our building for years, so to not have the same bones we’ve been working in for so long will be a bit hard.

“But as soon as we get air conditioning I think we will forget about it pretty quickly. It’s a very exciting thing to be able to leave a legacy for the next generation of leaders who will break that building in, and hopefully continue to make Pueblo proud.”

With a nod to its current design, the new building will retain a Burnt Red exterior motif, with the interior colors – orange, blue, green and gold -- to reflect Sunset Park’s status as a Leader in Me Lighthouse School. 

That fact, and those colors, also will figure into a flag being designed with input from the leader-savvy Yearlings. Three Sunset Park students hold up a material board showing samples of materials and colors to be used at the new school

Although she will have moved on by the time the new school opens, Madison White, a fifth-grader, is elated to have played a part in its design.

“I was concerned with how big the school is going to be, how much room there would be, and what the classrooms would look like,” Madison explained. “And I’m happy with the final design, and with a bigger space, we will have room for more kids.”

Jade Trujillo, a third-grader, offered input on the design of the school flag that will fly over the new building.

“We might put Sparky, our mascot on it, or a horse. And I think we want to put the Lighthouse on it, too,” Jade said. “I’m excited that more people will be able to come into the new school and make new friends.”

When the new school opens, Jade will be a fifth-grader. She plans to share memories of the current building with her schoolmates.

Like Madison, fifth-grader Valentina Martinez won’t be a Yearling come Fall 2023. She does, however, have a younger sibling who will follow in her footsteps.

“During the design process, I was most concerned about how the exterior of the school and the driveway would look,” Valentina said. “As part of the team, I’m glad to have played a part in designing a school that future students will get to enjoy.”