Denver Language School placed in former Gilpin Montessori building

Middle schoolers at Denver Language School, a language immersion charter that teaches students in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese, will have a new home next year: the northeast Denver school building that previously housed the now-shuttered Gilpin Montessori.

By a 6-to-1 vote Thursday, the Denver school board picked the charter from among seven middle and high schools that applied to use the building. The vote heeds the recommendation of a nine-member committee that cited the school’s high academic performance, healthy enrollment demand and racial diversity as reasons it rose to the top of the real estate contest.

Finding a suitable location in a red-hot market where school buildings are scarce is often one of the biggest hurdles faced by Denver charter schools looking to open or expand. Denver Language School, which serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade, has been housing its middle school in a facility that lacks a science lab and art room.

Board member Carrie Olson noted the inadequacy of the school’s current arrangement and said it is in “desperate need” of a building for its middle schoolers. However, she also expressed frustration that the selection process “pitted schools against each other.”

Board member Jennifer Bacon, who represents the Five Points neighborhood where Gilpin is located, was the sole no vote. While she praised Denver Language School, she expressed concerns about the extent to which the community was involved in the decision.

The committee that recommended Denver Language School included four community members and five district employees. One of those community members, former Gilpin parent Katherine Murphy, urged the board Thursday to vote against the recommendation. She said she wanted “a do-over” in which community members would have more say.

Another committee member, Curtis Park neighborhood association president John Hayden, told the board earlier this week that he felt the process was “too rushed.” He and others pointed out that the board voted to close Gilpin Montessori last December but the district didn’t solicit applications from schools seeking to use the building until October.

However, Hayden said the committee felt Denver Language School would be a good fit. He noted the school’s willingness to engage with its neighbors, including possibly running after-school language classes or helping to translate neighborhood newsletters into Spanish.

Parents and community members who live near Gilpin had previously expressed concerns that whichever school was placed there would siphon middle school students from existing neighborhood schools. But that possibility would be less likely with Denver Language School. Because of its language immersion model, few new students enroll after kindergarten.

Denver Language School has been open since 2010 and is currently operating on two campuses in east Denver. One is a former district-run elementary school and the other is leased space within a church. The school serves more than 700 students from across the city and provides them bus transportation along a certain route for a sliding-scale fee.

Next school year, the school’s fourth through eighth graders will be housed at Gilpin while construction is underway at its other elementary school campus. Once that work is completed, only the fifth through eighth grades will be housed at Gilpin.

The school expects to enroll up to 365 students in grades five through eight in the future, according to the committee’s recommendation, which means it would not fill 600-student-capacity Gilpin. Earlier this week, board members briefly discussed the possibility of eventually co-locating other programs there, if not an entire other school.