Workers compact dirt outside of Grand County Middle School on Aug. 20.  [Photo by Maggie McGuire / Moab Sun News]

After a year marked by unwanted change, Moab’s middle school students will celebrate a welcome transition to the new and improved Margaret L. Hopkin Middle School in April. The culmination of four years’ worth of planning and construction, the school will provide students with newer facilities, creative design and a greater focus on science, technology, engineering and math subjects.

“We’ve been so cramped up in this space, and this new space is so big,” said Margaret L. Hopkin Middle School Principal Cari Caylor. The existing school building dates back to the 1950s.

“I’m excited for the students to have an experience more akin to what they will have when they’re in high school. It’s a beautiful building,” she said.

Grand County School District Business Administrator Pat Wilson reported that the middle school construction project is currently under budget. After speed bumps such as bad soils and delays due to COVID-19, Wilson is proud of the school board and their commitment to the students.

“We’re looking at the same things that someone would look at if they were building their own home — you check to make sure that things were done correctly,” Wilson said. “We’ve made sure things are done in a way that enhances the learning opportunities for kids and our own functionality.”

Parents of middle school students will have their parent-teacher conferences in the new school building on April 22 and 23. Students will have their first full day of instruction on the new campus on April 27.

The school grounds are currently 60% done, according to Caylor, and will likely take until August to complete. The current middle school building will be demolished and replaced with a soccer field.

Caylor anticipates a ribbon-cutting ceremony in August before the start of school, with public tours to follow.

“Our primary focus right now is getting the building ready to serve students,” Caylor added.

Wilson, formerly the business administrator for the Sevier School District, joined GCSD in November 2020, in the midst of the middle school construction.

“Every time you open a new building for kids, it’s a neat experience for them,” he said. “I hope they comprehend and have the respect for the building and for the value that the community has put into it.”

This project, like many others over the past year, faced difficulties associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. While contracting the coronavirus locally was a less severe issue, Wilson and other project managers had to deal with subcontractors shutting their factories and manufacturing down due to the pandemic. For example, the bleachers for the new gymnasium will not arrive until mid-April, and planners had to switch flooring materials for some rooms to finish construction on time.

But the construction prevailed, and the new middle school will include many new features to enhance student learning in every field, but particularly in the STEM subjects.

“This building was built with the possibility for expansion of these STEM programs in mind,” said Caylor. The new building has a dedicated room for projects, dubbed the Maker Space.

“This is something we haven’t previously had here,” Caylor continued. “We’ve had some large rooms that can double as this or that, but this room is a space specifically for project completion across subjects and for cross-curricular subjects.”

MHTN Architects out of Salt Lake City designed the new middle school, with an emphasis on having the building mimic and reflect the unique scenery Moab has to offer. The floors swirl with playful canyon and river designs to pique students’ imaginations with color and liveliness.

“There’s something really new and modern about this collaboration. It will make students burst with pride to say, ‘this is my school,’” Wilson said. “I hope that they’re excited to come to a school that is so nice and so fun.”

Wilson said that MHTN Architects have been “actively engaged” in the project. Local representative Jim Dressler and other MHTN affiliates met with Wilson, Caylor and other stakeholders in weekly meetings throughout the past year to collaborate on a cohesive vision for the building and grounds.

“The board has been very prudent with public dollars to make this nice school for students and faculty,” Wilson continued, “but this will be a landmark for the community. And the community is going to get its money’s worth.”

Despite the struggles of Moab being a remote community and having to use an out-of-town contractor, the project was able to stay on track and under budget.

“We’ve been able to get a good group of subcontractors, keep it on budget, and save some money here and there without losing the benefits or functionality of the new building,” Wilson said. “My job was to make sure we got the best bang for our buck, and we’re getting that.”

In another testament to the Moab community, the school board unanimously voted to name the new middle school the Margaret L. Hopkin Middle School on Jan. 20. Hopkin served the Grand County School District for 33 years, first as a teacher and then as principal of Grand County Middle School before becoming superintendent. She passed away in December 2020.

“She was the best principal I ever worked under,” said McGann at a meeting of the Grand County Commission. “No one compared to her ability to bring everybody up, to give them the tools to be the best they could.”

Caylor and Wilson look forward to sharing the new school building and grounds with the whole community, but for now, their focus remains on facilitating a smooth transition for the students later in April.

“This is something the whole community should be proud of,” Wilson said.