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Developer donates land for ag charter school in Commerce City

One of Colorado’s best-known developers is returning to the family’s roots with the donation of 10 acres worth $3 million for a charter high school that will focus on the science and future of agriculture.

Cal Fulenwider III, chairman and CEO of L.C. Fulenwider Inc., announced the donation Tuesday to the STEAD charter school, which will be built on land that Fulenwider’s grandfather farmed in the early 1900s. The school, whose charter was approved by Brighton School District 27J, will be in the Reunion planned community in Commerce City, west of Denver International Airport.

Fulenwider is partnering with the BuildStrong Foundation, started by Pat Hamill, president and CEO of Oakwood Homes, the builder at Reunion. BuildStrong is kicking off a campaign to raise $2.5 million for the first phase of construction of what will be a multi-building campus, with greenhouses and, eventually, animals.

Cal Fulenwider III

“Agronomy is our heritage, it has been a part of our heritage forever,” Fulenwider said during an interview Monday in the 25-story office building his company constructed in downtown Denver. “That’s why we’re so excited about this school, because it takes my grandfather’s legacy full circle and honors him, which I couldn’t be more proud of.”

Agriculture is important to Colorado as a whole, Fulenwider added. It contributes $41 billion to the state’s economy and supports about 170,000 jobs.

Fulenwider’s grandfather, Lloyd Caleb “L.C.” Fulenwider, moved to Colorado from Missouri and incorporated the Globe Investment Co. in 1904, which evolved into L.C. Fulenwider Inc. His grandfather, who studied agronomy in college, built the family farming operation of Box Elder Farms. He was also a farm and ranch broker. The family still farms about 5,000 acres, mainly growing wheat.

The name of the planned school, STEAD, is intended to evoke the idea of a homestead and the area’s agricultural heritage, said Kelly Leid, executive vice president of community operations for Oakwood Homes. It also stands for Science, Technology, Environment, Agriculture and Design.

Leid and Amy Schwartz, director of the BuildStrong Foundation, are co-founders of the school. Students will be able to concentrate on four different pathways: animal science; plant science; environmental science, which will include such natural resource issues as water and soil health; and food science.

“One of challenges and one of the opportunities is that when you say ‘agriculture’ what’s seared into our brains is this very traditional sense of what ag is,” Leid said. “You think of the cow. You think of the horse. You think of the corn crop.”

And all of those are part of agriculture, Leid said, but so is technology, science and public policy, all topics the STEAD school will tackle.

Leid, a third-generation Coloradan who spent his formative years on a small farm in the Denver area, went from Oakwood Homes to work for the city of Denver on several projects, including the redevelopment of the National Western Stock Show grounds. He was with the Mayor’s Office of the National Western Center, which is overseeing the planning, design and construction to expand the existing 110-acre site to 250 acres.

One of the ideas discussed during the planning was a school at the National Western Center that concentrated on agriculture. That proposal got sidelined, Leid said, but the idea of establishing a school at Reunion took hold after he returned to Oakwood and started talking to Fulenwider.

Leid and Schwartz met with District 27J officials to gauge their interest. The two submitted their application for the charter school in August 2019. The district approved it near the end of the year.

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