Buena Vista Middle and High School

Buena Vista School District
Architectural Design, Interior Design, Planning, Programming
PK-12 Education
Buena Vista, CO
Project type
Addition and renovation
BD+C New Construction LEED v4 Silver

Flexible and adaptable school located in a beautiful setting

Buena Vista Middle School and High School is located in the scenic Arkansas River Valley with views of Mount Princeton, creating the impetus for a sprawling floor plan with natural light and 360-degree views of the surrounding natural landscape. Surrounded by 14,000-foot peaks, open skies, rivers, and agricultural lands, a connection to the outdoors inspired every aspect of the school’s design, from site placement to space planning and contextual design elements.

What down-to-earth looks like as a high functioning school building

The natural capture of daylighting within the school underscores its LEED Silver certification, but our team took it a step further to make sure we designed for every connection to context. Stakeholders knew that plugging a modern, sleek shell into a rugged natural landscape wouldn’t work for Buena Vista. Instead, the team opted for an appropriately scaled building that captures the warmth and comfort of its natural setting.

Materiality flows from exterior to interior, framing expansive views and adding a flavor of the local vernacular. Neutral colors and natural materials were sourced in a form and size that fit within its residential setting. The materials are tactile and textured without being overwhelming. With the Collegiate Peaks at the front door and the Arkansas River at the back, it’s impossible to forget that you are located within this one-of-a-kind place.

Learning environments: shared spaces are flexible for each activity

An important goal for the project was to provide enough space for both introverted and extroverted learners of various group sizes. The design includes a technology-rich and open information commons, as well as a flexible performance and dining commons. As day-to-day needs change, so does the school, which is equipped with built-in power throughout the facility to evolve with future technologies.

The primary academic portion of the school is a two-story configuration to allow separate and succinct homes for both the middle and high schools. Each floor includes science labs, small group study spaces, and a collaboration zone. These come together at the entry and information commons that showcase flexible seating, movable shelving, robust technology, and outdoor views. Shared programs such as band, art, performing arts, and family and consumer studies are centrally located for easy student and community access, with athletic spaces and gymnasiums making up the southern wing adjacent to the field.

With limited funds but a strong need for a performing arts space, the flex commons was introduced in the heart of the school. Connected to both the academic and athletic areas, this space is used as a theater that can transform into dining, café, or classroom space. With easy access to an outdoor classroom and dining area, the space features views of the Collegiate Peaks but can be enclosed with a large foldable wall. This solution pushes the boundaries of what shared space can look like, touching on each of the project’s core values.

By the community, for the community: from BEST Grant to “best school ever”

The design story of this facility really began years before when our team worked on the Buena Vista School District Master Plan. The resulting vision from that plan led to a successful BEST Grant award that allowed this middle and high school project to move forward. The support from local and state communities was integral to making this project a reality for students.

School tours, key stakeholder meetings, community presentations, and participating in community events such as the BV Strong Dinner helped our team grasp the vision and dreams of the project stakeholders and the community. The context we gained was invaluable to establishing the core values that guided the project from planning to ribbon cutting.

What we heard was a need for a true performing arts program that would provide student opportunity and open the door for partnerships and shared use. Athletics space needed to be safe and accessible, allowing equal competition for both middle and high school students while continuing to be that place where community members could catch up and play pickleball. The school also needed an in-school dining option that was safe and connected to the outdoors while serving as a venue for outside events. Adjacent public trails could be shared through designated and safe access.

So much of what gives the Buena Vista Middle and High School its unique character is anchored in its community—so it only seemed fitting to give back with a community-centered design that serves all.

Project contact

Chad Novak


Related projects

Meeker High School

Meeker, CO

Roosevelt High School

Johnstown, CO

Related content