With opening of Hydro, CSU Spur fills out a “menu” for creativity, collaboration

Close up of the scrim on the CSU Spur Hydro building.

The water-themed Hydro building at CSU Spur opens Friday, Jan. 6, 2023.

When the Hydro building opens on Friday, it will mark the physical completion of the CSU Spur campus in north Denver. The water-themed building, like its neighboring buildings focused on health and food, will support a range of programs and initiatives focused on research, innovation, and interdisciplinary discovery.

Yet the opening of Hydro, the largest of CSU Spur’s three buildings, also rounds out an urban campus that was created as a sort of laboratory aimed at finding new ways to engage, inform, and inspire the broader community.

At Hydro, that will happen in part through the use of flexible spaces supporting everything from arts programs and dance performances to hybrid science courses and research symposia. Among these spaces is a theater with a dancer-friendly sprung floor and capacity for 230 people.

Greg Dickinson, chair of CSU’s department of communications studies, has served as a liaison for the College of Liberal Arts in thinking about programs and activities that will connect with Spur’s mission while also strengthening ties to the community. A simple question, he said, guides the approach in looking at ways to represent and celebrate arts, humanities, and social sciences on a campus that is focused on food, water, and health.

“How do we leverage what is happening at Spur to think about values?” he asked. Ultimately, he explained, the work of seeking solutions to critical challenges facing society involves coming to a “deeper” and “more complex” understanding of democracy itself.

Theater space with stadium seating.

The theater in Hydro will have space for more than 200 people to attend lectures, performances, and other events.

One aspect of this is an expansion of the Public Achievement program, through which CSU now works with two high schools in Poudre Valley School District, to Denver high schools in the vicinity of Spur. The program, which involves CSU faculty, staff, and students in various ways as coaches, equips participants to work with their teachers and others to identify and understand an equity challenge in their community and initiate a process to address it. 

On April 27, Hydro’s theater will also serve as the venue for an encore version of the annual ACT Human Rights Film Festival, which will take place in Fort Collins March 29-April 2.

Arts programming will include a week-long summer musical theatre camp for students in middle and high school, musical instruction through a partnership with Take Note Colorado, and an expansion of Kids Do It All, a collaborative musical theatre camp for children ages 7-14 in which participants write a musical and then take charge of developing their work for an end-of-week performance.

Debbie Swann, a senior instructor in CSU’s School of Music, Theatre, and Dance and director of Kids Do It All at Spur, sees such programming as an important part of efforts to make progress in science and technology, and an essential ingredient when thinking about health.

“If you don’t have emotional outlets, you’re not doing the health part,” she said.

The theater and music rehearsal rooms at Hydro add to a “menu” of spaces at CSU Spur meant to foster collaboration and creative problem solving across the arts and sciences, explained Jocelyn Hittle, the associate vice chancellor for CSU Spur and special projects.

“The campus community has been engaged for almost a decade in thinking about what the Spur campus can be,” Hittle said. “I think these programs really make that promise come true.”

Exhibits line a wall.
A wall-mounted exhibit shows an aerial view of a river system.

Displays at Hydro will introduce students to potential careers and situate visitors within the South Platte watershed.

In addition to providing space for arts programs, Hydro will house initiatives focused on preparing students from all backgrounds for academic and career success. One of these is College Track, a national non-profit focused on college and career success for participants, most aspiring to become first-generation college graduates. Under a new partnership with the CSU System, College Track will open a center in The Shop, a renovated structure built in 1930 that is connected to the Hydro building, and College Track participants will have access to a new pathway to pursue bachelor’s degrees at one of the CSU System campuses: CSU, CSU Pueblo, and CSU Global.

Among the initiatives that will support students at the college level is the Colorado Water Center’s USHER (Urban Systems for Hydro Education and Research) program, which will build on the center’s existing Student Fellowship program focused on increasing representation in the water sector.

“Hydro is a hub that we can utilize for the outreach and engagement mission of the center, both to reach out to communities to learn more about water, and to be more effective at getting K-12 students interested in water and into the water-workforce pipeline,” said John Tracy, a CSU professor of ecosystem science and sustainability, and director of the Colorado Water Center. “It’s a footprint that is going to allow us to more easily engage with the water constituency across the state.”  

About CSU Spur 

CSU Spur is a free educational year-round public destination in Denver focused on engaging PreK-12 students, families, and visitors around food, water, and health. CSU Spur is a non-degree granting campus that showcases the work of the CSU System campuses: CSUCSU Pueblo, and CSU Global. Spur is built upon the land-grant mission of access to education and the belief that students can be anything they want to be. To inspire students and visitors to engage in important world issues, CSU Spur will bring together scientists to collaborate, put science on-display, and showcase career paths. The CSU Spur campus provides immersive learning experiences and cutting-edge research across three buildings: Vida, Terra, and Hydro. Learn more at CSUSpur.org.