Bristol: From ‘71 teaching style to modern-day fire concern Bond issue would bring end to ‘open classroom’ design

       In the early 1970s, District 11 educators in Colorado Springs became enamored of a then-popular British teaching strategy known as the “open classroom.” They liked it so much that all four new elementaries built in 1971 followed a design in which classrooms had no walls.
       One of those was 31,000 square-foot Bristol Elementary on Walnut Street. Frank Wright, who has taught there since 1975, remembers it back then as being “all wide open,” with the only hard walls being around the office area and what was then a community room. This contributed to team-teaching, he recalled, but “noise-wise, it was a different animal. If you had an activity that was fairly loud, it might infringe on another class that was taking a spelling test.”
       Over the years, as the open-classroom strategy fell out of favor, some walls - permanent as well as temporary - have been put back in at Bristol. A $324,000 project to finish the job of giving Bristol classrooms like those at other schools is a high priority in the $131.7 million District 11 bond issue that will go before voters as Question 3B in the election Nov. 1.
       The election seeks voter approval to spend money for bond items, including Bristol's, that were approved last year (see adjoining story).
       D-11 Facilities Director Mike Maloney said the plan is to spread the bond work out between 2006 and 2008, with the highest priority projects occurring the first year. According to his recommendation to the D-11 Board of Education (to be acted on if 3B passes), Bristol's work should take place next summer. The urgency for Bristol is not related to teaching strategies, but to fire safety, Maloney explained in a recent interview. “The main thing we want to accomplish is fire-rated corridors so that, God forbid, if there is a fire, there will be good egress for kids and a one-hour fire rating on the walls,” he said.
       Bristol Principal Steve Ferguson said that currently all the walls between classrooms are portable. While this is convenient if one classroom needs to be made bigger or smaller for some reason, problems can result from noise (because the walls aren't thick and the rooms have no doors). And even some permanent walls that have been added are not considered safe, because the doors open into the hallway, instead of a door alcove, he pointed out.
       Adding to the mix is the air-conditioning that must also be installed at Bristol, if 3B passes. As a result, much of the school's interior must be redone (but without tarnishing the legendary historical/chronological mural that's along a rear hallway).
       “It's all got to be meshed,” Maloney said, adding that he would work with Ferguson and his staff to plan the new configuration for the school's interior.

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