Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Building For Education

Building For Education -- Measure C Money a Boon to District Schools
By Susan Winlow

Rollings Hills Elementary School is under construction on Hilborn Road in Fairfield. It is one of many Measure C projects. (Christine Baker/Daily Republic)

FAIRFIELD - The mold was so bad at Crescent Elementary School in the late 1990s some teachers and students who arrived healthy at school soon left sick.

Dark spots formed on the ceiling and water poured from light fixtures in Mardel Taguinod's classroom.

After the buildings were condemned, the Fairfield-Suisun School District moved 32 portables onto the playground and a makeshift school sprung up where students used to hit tetherballs and play basketball.

Portables are grudgingly accepted in most cases but to the faculty and students at Crescent the portables were a welcome relief.

"Going to the portables was a good change from a bad situation," Taguinod said. "(It was) a fresh start, but very inconvenient especially when they tore down the cafeteria and gym."

After several years in the portables, the situation got old.

"I was there at least five years before they built the new school," said Judy Engell, who began teaching just two weeks after the original buildings were condemned. "It was a long time."

With no gym or cafeteria, the students had no real place to eat, there was no overhang to protect students or teachers from the rain, no real playground because the portables took up the playground and the hike to the classrooms from the parking lot was very long.

"We were hoping for golf carts at one point because we were out there," Taguinod said with a chuckle.

With the passage of Measure C - the first successful bond passed in the history of the school district - in 2002, the district received much-needed funds to fix schools such as Crescent and Green Valley Middle School and to make essential repairs and improvements to other schools. The district raised $100 million plus an equal amount from the state - when Measure C construction is complete, the district will have spent $213 million. To date, it has spent $164 million.

Since Measure C's passage, the financial flow toward new school construction, modernization and renovations averages $3.4 million a month. With more than 60 ambitious projects completed, in progress or planned - including replacing non-conforming buildings such as trailers at multiple schools and portables - it's easy to understand the astronomical monthly financial output.

Measure C money also includes site acquisition for a fourth high school if it is needed. The district is looking at property on Abernathy Road that Ray Ferrari would like to donate to the school district.

The district received a boost from the state, which paid for half of both Crescent and Green Valley schools because the state deemed both schools hardship cases due to the mold and location issues. It's rare to qualify for one hardship case, let alone two in one year, said Rob Pierce, assistant superintendent of facilities and operations.

Green Valley's issues spread from aesthetics to a far more dangerous one. It was in a dangerous location, principal Greg Hubbs said.

Aside from the freeway being a stone's throw away, it also had non-earthquake proof buildings, high voltage lines running close by and no place for buses to pick up and drop off students.

"The bus drop off was the same place as the parking," Hubbs said. "It was a nightmare - I'm surprised no kids were killed while we were there."

When the district hired Pierce several years ago he toured the facilities to see what needed to be done. He called replacement of both schools a "no brainer" in terms of priorities.

The new schools

Fast forward to today.

The new Green Valley Middle School - construction began in January 2003 and was completed in September 2004 - with its amphitheater and two-story design commands a spacious hilltop view in a residential neighborhood. The move evokes an undisguised giddiness from Hubbs.

"Oh my God it was so exciting," he said of the move. "You can't get any further in the spectrum - one was as bad as you can get and the other is as good as you get."

The new Crescent Elementary School was also completed in September 2004 and moved to a new location in the Lawler Ranch subdivision in Suisun City. And on the old Crescent site sits a new middle school - Crystal, which also opened its doors in September 2004. It's a mirror image of Green Valley - both used designs from a Roseville school.

Reusing school plans became popular in the 1990s as a way to expedite the building process and save money. In architect fees alone reusing plans allows school districts to save millions, Pierce said.

In a bid to ease overcrowding, the district converted the old David Weir Elementary School to a new school. It was last used as an elementary school in 1995 and sat vacant after the school district offices moved to new facilities on Hilborn Road. It was gutted and remodeled during summer 2006.

In progress are Cordelia Hills Elementary School, which is located on 10 acres in Cordelia, and the 6.5-acre Rolling Hills Elementary School, located on Fieldcrest Drive on the north side of the city. Both are set to be completed this spring and ready for occupancy in fall 2007. Both are two-story designs with a wide sweeping centrally located outdoor amphitheater that can seat the entire student body.

Rolling Hills will ease the bulging seams of B. Gale Wilson School and make room for the dual immersion program that is moving from K.I. Jones Elementary School to Wilson. Cordelia Hills will ease the crowding at Oakbrook Elementary school and can fit up to 600 students.

The completion of Cordelia Hills and being selected as principal of an uncompleted school is a dream come true for Louise Bevilaqua, who is principal at B. Gale Wilson. Bevilaqua was involved in the initial planning stages of closing a school and opening a new one in the John Swett School District before coming to this district numerous years ago.

It created a spark that didn't die.

"I've had this dream to be involved in a new school for about 10 years," she said. "I'm totally thrilled to have this challenge."

With an equal excitement to outfitting a new home, Bevilaqua will pick school colors and furniture and help design the internal structure of the library. She will also survey prospective students about mascot choices.

"It's a lot to think about," she said.

The remaining school to be built is Paradise Valley Elementary School, which will be located in a planned residential community near Air Base Parkway and Clay Bank Road.

Plans to build the school were put on hold after the developer of 1,200 new homes encountered wetlands issues. No date is set to begin building, but Pierce said about a year after home construction starts the district will begin the new school, which will take a maximum of 16 months to build.

"It's not getting any cheaper to build," Pierce said. "We would have loved to have started."

Renovations, modernizations

While the new schools might be the most noticeable additions to the district, numerous large renovations and additions also took place with several still to be completed. Measure C funds allowed construction of new classrooms, a new gym at Grange Middle School was completed in 2006 and new classroom additions at E. Ruth Sheldon Elementary School.

Crews completed many of the modernization projects over summers to minimize student interruption. One of the larger modernization projects, done in two phases in 2003 and 2005, occurred at Armijo High School and cost nearly $12 million. It included adding heat to the gym, gutting and repairing 26 bathrooms, which Pierce said were in bad condition, and renovating the athletic fields.

Included in the site modernizations is bringing schools current with the Americans with Disabilities Act, updating electrical systems, adding data outlets, adding air conditioning in places such as the Fairfield High School gym, updating fire and phone systems and general aesthetics such as flooring.

Improvements also included, or will include upon completion, library expansions, upgrades or replacements to schools such as Bransford and Anna Kyle Elementary Schools, administration building expansions and improvements to Fairview and Suisun Elementary Schools and new multi-purpose rooms to Tolenas Elementary School and Dover Middle School.

Districtwide, 41 moveable trailers that doubled as classrooms or other facilities were removed.

Pierce said he would like construction to be completed by summer 2008 but with building stalled on Paradise Valley Elementary School that remains up in the air.

Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or swinlow@dailyrepublic.net.

Partial list of completed Measure C projects

-Crescent Elementary School: Started, March 2003; completed, September 2004; cost, $12.3 million.
-Crystal Middle School: Started, June 2002; completed, September 2004; cost, $19.9 million.
-Green Valley Middle School: Started, Jan. 2003; completed, September 2004; cost, $28 million, includes $8.8 million site acquisition

-Armijo High School Phase 1: Started, June 2003; completed, September 2003; cost, $8.8 million.
-Armijo High School Phase 2: Started, April 2005; completed, September 2005; cost, $409,631.
-Fairfield High School: Started, June 2004; completed, December 2004; cost, $11.6 million.
-Tolenas Elementary School: Started, June 2004; completed, September 2004; cost: $951,300.
-Sullivan Middle School Phase 1: Started, June 2003; completed, September 2003; cost: $1 million.
-Sullivan Middle School Phase 2: Started, June 2005; completed, September 2005; cost: $890,854.
-Suisun Valley Elementary School: Started, June 2003, completed, September 2003; cost: $522,889.
-Sem Yeto High School: Started, June 2004; completed, September 2004; cost, $1.8 million.
-Grange Middle School Phase 1: Started, June 2003; completed, September 2003; cost, $2 million.
-E. Ruth Sheldon: started, June 2004; completed, September 2004; cost, $974,551.
-Dover Middle School: Started, June 2004; completed, September 2004; cost, $2 million.
-Anna Kyle Elementary School: Started, June 2003; completed, September 2003; cost, $1.3 million.

-Armijo High School: Started, April 2005; completed September 2005; cost, $2.5 million.
-Fairfield High School: Started, May 2005; completed, September 2005; cost, $1.3 million.

Multipurpose room
-Tolenas Elementary School: Started, June 2003; completed, September 2003; cost, $1.8 million.
-E. Ruth Sheldon Elementary School: Started, June 2003; completed, September 2003; cost, $1.7 million.

-Laurel Creek Elementary: Started, July 2006; completed, December 2006; cost, $64,971.
-David Weir Elementary School conversion: Completed, August 2006; cost, $8.8 million.
-Grange Middle School addition: Completed August 2006; cost, $8.5 million.

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