School in the Woods Celebrates Its First Permanent Structure with Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., May 2, 2019 – On Friday, April 26, Academy District 20’s School in the Woods held its ribbon cutting ceremony. Students – also called Naturalists – as well as staff, parents, district representatives and the school’s founders all joined to celebrate the school’s first permanent structure. Funded by the 2016 Bond Measure, GE Johnson Special Projects and RTA Architects worked diligently to design and construct a high-quality, budget-friendly building that achieves the school’s dream of being a “living classroom.”

Located on a 640-acre plot in Colorado Springs’ Black Forest, the School in the Woods integrates the surrounding forest into its environment and curriculum for the fourth graders. During their time at the school, students study wildlife, garden, make compost and conduct field studies, among many other activities. Unlike other elementary schools, there is no playground equipment; students explore and learn from Black Forest instead.

For more than 20 years, classes have been held in temporary trailers. Now, the school has a 9,820-square-foot, single-story building that features open learning labs and a centrally located Curiosity Center and Learning Stairs.

The building’s distance and orientation away from the main road – coupled with the southern-exposure windows, which provide year-round natural light – allows students to be fully immersed in and connected to the forest environment.

A major component of the School in the Wood’s curriculum is sustainability, so it is only fitting that the building itself adheres to those principles as well. The new School in the Woods is a sustainable, energy-efficient, and environmentally conscious solution that exists in harmony with the Black Forest environment. The low-profile building blends into the natural forest setting, and all classrooms have direct access to the outdoors. Biophilia – or the incorporation of natural materials, natural light, vegetation, views to nature and other experiences of the natural world – is used throughout the building. Sustainable features include recycled furniture, energy efficient appliances, low-flow toilets, LED motion sensor lights, operable windows, radiant floor heating, and solar panels.

“We were thrilled to have been able to work with Academy School District 20, the School in the Woods staff, and GE Johnson to create a new facility that supports the School in the Woods’ mission and demonstrates the school’s deep commitment to conservation and sustainability,” said Doug Abernethy, RTA Principal-in-Charge of the School in the Woods project. “It is a program unlike any other in the District, the state and possibly even in the nation at a public school level. We enjoyed working with the District and School on such a unique learning environment for students right here in El Paso County.”

GE Johnson Special Projects shares this enthusiasm.

“Our team is proud to have been a part of the School in the Woods project because it is so unique of a learning environment. This is so meaningful to the community and Academy District 20, as well as GE Johnson,” said Michelle Robinette, general manager of GE Johnson Special Projects. “This specialized, complex work is what our group is tailored to do.”

The current class of 78 students began using the space on April 22. After they depart for the summer, GE Johnson Special Projects will be able to complete the final touches on the school.

About RTA Architects
RTA Architects has created award winning architectural and interior designs for the Colorado built environment since 1975. RTA specializes in education, healthcare, retail, community, and commercial properties, delivering beautiful buildings that serve the unique needs of their owners and occupants. In addition to our core strength of architecture and design for new construction, renovation, and adaptive re-use projects, RTA provides technical expertise in a broad range of services including: feasibility studies, site selection, master planning, facility assessments, interior design, and environmental graphics. RTA’s website is located at

About GE Johnson

For more than half a century, GE Johnson has been dedicated to enriching our communities by leading and building projects with the best people and ideas. The company embraces the power of ingenuity and trusting relationships, and values integrity, safety, collaboration, and excellence. GE Johnson is headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado with offices in: Denver, Colorado; Vail, Colorado; Jackson, Wyoming; Casper, Wyoming; and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.


The School in the Woods "Naturalists" took part in the ribbon cutting
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