By Annie Lindgren, North Forty News

The time has almost come for Wellington to have a High school again. We have watched the property on the west end of town transform from a cornfield to a modern school facility. There is excitement all over town, with the changes coming for students, the partnership opportunities, and the economic benefit.

In November 2016, voters approved a bond, $375 million with an $8 million mill levy override, that Poudre School District (PSD) used to purchase the land, build the school, and improve the other fifty PSD schools. PSD purchased the 127-acre property in Wellington in January of 2019 for five million dollars. The new school is at 2856 Cleveland Avenue, on the West end of Wellington. The school is approximately 247,500 square feet and costs $115-$130 million to build. The school should be complete in mid-March 2022 and open in August.

Kelby Benedict, the current principal for Wellington Middle School and future principal of the Wellington Middle-High school, shares excitement about classes starting this fall. He has been with Wellington Middle School for three years and was previously the assistant principal at Poudre High school. Before that, he was a math teacher and coach. He has a Masters’s in Educational and Human Resource Studies from CSU and was a Fort Collins High school graduate.

“This new school is a state-of-the-art building that people will be visiting from around the world. It is humbling and exciting to have this opportunity for our students,” shares Kelby.

The school is building partnerships with various vocational and agricultural service providers around town to help provide service learning and on-the-job shadowing opportunities for youth. Students will have opportunities to earn industry credits engage in concurrent enrollment and advanced placement classes. “As we prepare students for the future, I want them to have opportunities that align with their individualized career and academic plans,” shares Kelby.

This school also provides a lot of jobs, making it a significant employer in the Wellington community. While all the current Middle school staff will be moving over to the new school, they are hiring additional counselors, nutrition, custodians, support staff, coaches, and others. An additional 40-50 staff members will join the team by May.

Travis Peeples, a Wellington resident and new Wellington High school football coach, brings 25 years of coaching experience. He had been Frederick High School’s football coach before moving to Wellington, and when he saw the field being built west of town, he reached out to the school to find out the plans and if he could be part of it. Travis shares the mission to develop student-athletes to their full potential in the classroom, on the athletic field, and as a community leader. Also that 100% of the players graduate with skills, work ethic, and grit needed to excel in their post-high school plans. He brings a lot of exciting ideas to the future of Wellington football.

Hilarie Bartling, the Athletic Director of the new Middle-High school, shares the plan to provide youth with every opportunity they would have in Fort Collins, right here in Wellington. This includes every sport currently offered at Poudre High school. The school’s new weight room and fitness center is an excellent facility, and they are hiring a strength coach to help with training.

“Wellington High School will be a member of the Patriot League competing at the 2A level in football and the 3A level in most other sports. We will compete against Timnath High School as well as other teams in the Patriot League,” shares Hilarie Bartling.

The drive to Poudre High school is challenging for those with kids participating in after-school or summer activities, and stressful for bad weather drive days and surprise ‘need to pick up the kid’ days. All of that is relieved with this new school much closer to home. It also includes having a space within our community providing an endless supply of prosocial activities for our youth and opportunities to gather and connect for attendees. There will be a performing arts center for plays and musicals, and Friday Night Lights will bring everyone out to cheer on the athletes. It will be Wellington’s largest and most significant building and community gathering space.

Wellington hasn’t had a high school since 1964, with the last graduating class. When Poudre High school opened, Wellington and Laporte’s High schools closed as they bused students to the new Poudre High school in Fort Collins. Many community members remember the last Wellington High school. Kelby plans to engage with former alumni and have students record some of those memories. “Bringing a high school back into the community is a weaving of traditions with innovation. Let’s look at the traditions our community was founded on and take it to the next level with the new facility,” shares Kelby.

Open houses and student visits, scheduled after the building was complete, allowed community members to take a peak and students to see the building 2-3 times before the start of the new school year. In August 2022, the 6th through 10th-grade classes move to the new school for the new school year. The 9th graders currently enrolled at Poudre will be automatically registered, though there is an option for them to continue at Poudre. They anticipate approximately 850 students this fall, based on current enrollment numbers.

As the 10th graders move to the 11th and 12th grades, the school will fill to housing all the 6th through 12th grades students. Having six grades in one school is a prime opportunity for meeting the unique needs of each student and helping them stay on track for graduation. In addition, there will no longer be a need for the 8th to 9th grade to transition to another town. This will foster a cohesive learning culture for students alongside maintaining that connection to their hometown community.

The transition to the new school for grades 6-10 isn’t the only transition happening this year. They are shifting all the Early Childhood Programs to Eyestone Elementary, with the two current classrooms for this group at Rice Elementary moving over, thus creating more space at Rice. Then, Eyestone will become two campuses. The current Eyestone building will house Early Childhood through 2nd grade. The current Middle school building will house 3rd through 5th grade. Rice Elementary will remain a Kindergarten through 5th-grade school for students on the south side of town. As the shuffling happens, the goal is to provide better learning spaces and opportunities for all Wellington’s students.

The building site the new school is on is large enough to fit another school, like a Middle school. The current new building can accommodate 1,500-1,800 students. So there is plenty of opportunity for growth at the new site as Wellington continues to grow.

No community-changing project is free of concerns. One concern includes safe routes to school, as a railroad track draws a line between the school side of town and the bulk of the neighborhoods. Meetings are happening to discuss solutions with police, engineers, public works, and other entities to ensure that sidewalks and crossings are safe. This is a huge opportunity to increase walkability in Wellington.

Conversations are also happening for bringing additional mental health services to youth and students through organizations such as SummitStone, partnering with the school. This creates opportunities for mental health support without needing a commute to Fort Collins. This school will be an all-in-one resource hub for Wellington youth.

The message shared by all the faculty interviewed was the importance of partnership and community engagement. There are a lot of unknowns with a new school coming to town, but as we figure out the path, there are plenty of opportunities to build a positive culture for Wellington’s youth to thrive. And opportunities for businesses and community members to partner in showing their support to our growing community.

There is so much excitement and energy around the new Wellington Middle-High school opening. The ripple effects spread throughout the community as we watch the growth and opportunities unfold. Let’s go, Eagles!

Article Published in North Forty News (April 28, 2022) and in the Wellington Chamber of Commerce Annual Directory (April, 2022).