After eight years of operation in inadequate facilities, Ricardo Flores Magón Academy (RFMA) has the opportunity for a fresh start. With Mayor Michael Hancock on hand, the RFMA community celebrated the groundbreaking of a new K-8 facility just north of Denver’s Regis neighborhood. MOA ARCHITECTURE is the architect for the new facility, with Fransen Pittman serving as general contractor and Vanir Management as owner’s representative.
The new building is made possible by a $15.5 million grant from the State Board of Education’s Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) program. The grant was part of the 2018 BEST program, which marked the largest award given by the State in the program’s history. The 2018 program was also notable for grants given to charter schools for major construction projects, including RFMA’s new facility. In previous grant cycles, awards to charter schools accounted for around 1% of total awarded funds; the 2018 grant application marked the third attempt by RFMA to secure funding for a new facility.
The groundbreaking ceremony was held on the site for the new building, directly north from the existing RFMA facilities. Attended by over 100 members of the RFMA community, students were the stars of the ceremony, with high-achieving students taking hold of ceremonial spades to do the honorary groundbreaking, flinging dirt high into the air. (Some of which landed on an amused and appreciative crowd.) Remarks were given by Mayor of Denver Michael Hancock; Dr. Terry Croy Lewis, Executive Director of Colorado Charter School Institute; John Pittman, President and CEO of Fransen Pittman; and Jorge Castañeda, an immigration lawyer who serves as an RFMA board member.
Mayor Hancock framed the construction of the new school as an opportunity to correct educational imbalances in the region, including the neighborhoods of North Denver.
“It is my hope that this new facility opens new horizons for the right students and welcomes them here every day,” said Mayor Hancock. “This is about fixing inequities in our education system. It is paramount to fix these inequities that remain in several aspects of our lives and in our communities.”
Dr. Croy Lewis touched on the inadequacies of the charter school’s existing facilities in her remarks and commended the community for its tenacity in the face of these challenges.
“I would walk your hallways, and I would go in your classrooms and I saw students and teachers working incredibly hard in a facility that no one deserved to be in,” said Dr. Crow Lewis. “But all of you didn’t let it stop your success.”
Founded in order to provide high-quality education in one of the region’s lowest-income neighborhoods, RFMA has won accolades for its educational results and community focus. Serving a largely Mexican-American student population, the charter school emphasizes the importance of cultural heritage, with the school’s Mexican revolutionary namesake, Ricardo Flores Magón, held up as an example of how someone can forge social change through their intellect. RFMA students are known as “Magonistas” in honor of this namesake.
“We have worked closely with parents, faculty, and community members to ensure that the design reflects the community,” said Chas Marquez, one of MOA ARCHITECTURE’s architects who worked on the project. “The final design acknowledges the community heritage with a focus on performance and gathering spaces, including the expansive commons area and learning stairs.” The resulting facility comprises 32,700 SF of space, including classrooms and learning environments for kindergarten through 8th grade, gymnasium, administration areas, and a cafeteria/commons area opening onto a “learning stair,” which will function as the heart of the school. The facility will be under construction over the next year, with an opening set for next fall.