Summer fix-ups for aging facilities add up for Modesto schools

Third-grade teacher Louise Leverett prepares her classroom in preparation for the start of the school year at Tuolumne Elementary in Modesto, Calif., on Thursday July 24, 2014. Classes begin August 11.
Third-grade teacher Louise Leverett prepares her classroom in preparation for the start of the school year at Tuolumne Elementary in Modesto, Calif., on Thursday July 24, 2014. Classes begin August 11.

Truckloads of black asphalt poured stripe after stripe over the aging blacktop of Tuolumne Elementary School. New Principal Heather Contreras looked beyond the brilliant black to the parched field behind, a gold shag carpet of dry grass.

“They’ve told me it will be green by the time school starts. As soon as the paving’s done, the water goes on,” Contreras said Thursday, her voice a mix of hope and excitement. That gives the parched pasture just over two weeks to change its color palette before kids return Aug. 11.

Outdoor renovation of the 64-year-old campus included steps and wheelchair ramps to manage a 5-foot drop in grade between the school and its playground, and freshly poured concrete walkways angled to accommodate up to a 3-foot shift between classroom wings.

The paving trucks will move on this week to La Loma Junior High. Playground striping will be the finishing touch for John Muir Elementary. Work is still going on at Beard Elementary, where road construction has held up progress, said John Liukkonen, district director of maintenance and construction. “Beard’s got me nervous,” he said.

This has been a fix-up summer for Modesto City Schools, with dozens of projects long delayed by the recession going on all at once.

“I spent about $5 million on things we’ve put off for years,” Liukkonen said. “It may not look like that now, but all contractors are working diligently toward an on-time completion.”

At Beyer High, the district replaced all 32 1970s-era rooftop heating and air-conditioning units, adding upgraded energy management controls, and re-roofed the I wing, the last section in a 10-year replacement effort. Lakewood Elementary also got its climate controls revamped.

Major field work and maintenance to the Olympic-plus-size pool continues at Johansen High. Higher fencing will keep children from jumping over and diving in when the facility is closed, Liukkonen said. New filters, pumps and heaters will include energy conservation options for the 993,568-gallon pool.

In other pool news, plasterers are scheduled to be at Enochs High on Aug. 18, putting the final touches on the 12-lane pool with computer-controlled LED lighting and built-in computerized timing system. Water polo players will have to wait three weeks or so for that to cure before diving in, likely in mid- to late September, Liukkonen said.

New play equipment awaits the recess bell at Enslen, Everett, Fremont, Garrison and Kirschen elementary schools.

High school fields are also getting improvements, he said. Upgrades at Davis High include replacement of its football practice field, safer goal posts and an outside track curb. Davis and Johansen will get new clay-cinder tracks, jump-runways and jump pits. Beyer will also get new runways and pits.

But fresher facilities aren’t the only new thing at schools this year. Teachers getting a head start on readying their rooms said they’re revamping their lesson plans for the Common Core State Standards.

“I’ve gone through 15 years’ worth of stuff,” said Tuolumne third-grade teacher John Avey on Thursday. Waving his hand at the stacks of books and open storage units, he said, “You have to look at this, not as a room, but as I’m building a foundation.”

Two doors down, third-grade teacher Louise Leverett laid out pencils, homework folders and math journals for her students, putting her husband to work making copies. The switch is a learning process for her, too, Leverett said. “We had such a stringent pacing guide,” she said. “I think there will be more free time for their creative thinking.”

Contreras, in her sixth day on the job, said she’s seeing more teachers coming in this week. “There’s so much that’s new, I think they’re itching to get in there,” she said.