Explore PK-8 School


Location: Thornton, CO
Size: 59,800 SF
Owner: Mapleton Public Schools
Market: K-12 Education
Architect: Hord Coplan Macht


Explore PK-8 was built on the historic Carlson Family Ranch in Thornton. This new school is a replacement school with an expeditionary learning curriculum. Mapleton School District was very grateful that the Carlson’s sold the land to the District and established a design goal that the building pay homage to the land’s history.  The design elements of a ranch and ranch house were incorporated into the design of the school, including; front and back porches with rocking chairs, paddocks (protected outdoor areas), barn and barn doors, a reading silo, a garden to table farm area, and a tree lined entry.

Students enter the 59,800 square foot single-story school under the front porch.  The entry immediately leads into the two-story open volume of the Learning and Dining Commons that is focused around a central hearth and fireplace.  Accessed off of this community space is the PK-2 classroom wing.  The classrooms are organized in pairs of grade levels around a common space.  The 3-8 classroom wing consists of a series of four classroom houses.  Each house has its own amenity spaces, which includes a group break out space and restrooms.  Each of the breakout spaces has access to an exterior classroom space to enhance expeditionary learning, which is separated from the exterior play by a creek bed with pedestrian bridges.

To support the expeditionary learning program, the exterior playground is designed around the fundamentals of nature play.  The play equipment is not the traditional primary colored plastic and steel elements, rather composed of natural materials of timbers and rocks.  The play area is divided into a series of zones, connected with interesting paths and educational signage explaining the plant materials the students are passing by, insects and animals, and the history of the site.


“Constructing a new school facility for Explore PK-8 was a special project from the beginning. The project had to honor the site (a former dairy farm owned and operated by a legacy Adams County family) and it had to support 21st century expeditionary learning. The JHL team understood the importance of this project to the community and endeavored to give it commensurate levels of effort and attention.  JHL held themselves to high expectations as builders, general contractors, and partners. The design-build process was transparent and included clear, timely communication; no detail was overlooked and no request unanswered. The school facility was finished ahead of schedule and on budget – but more importantly, it will facilitate high levels of learning for generations of Mapleton students.”

Mike Crawford
Senior Deputy Superintendent for Mapleton Public Schools

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