2016-07-22 / Front Page
District sprucing up schools over summer
About $18M in campus upgrades underway
Two earthmovers clawed a big dirt hole where asphalt had covered the central quad of one of Simi Valley Unified School District’s 1960s-era schools as Pedro Avila looked on, a little concerned about the project’s progress thus far.
“I’m starting to doubt that it’ll be completely done in time,” the SVUSD facilities manager said July 8 at the dusty work site at Santa Susana Elementary School.
In an annual race against time, the school district is hoping to complete that project and dozens of other renovations this summer at about 26 schools before most students return to class Aug. 17.
With an approximately 10-week construction window, workers are busy installing new play equipment, air-conditioners, roofing, fencing and drought-tolerant landscaping and upgrading computer labs and restrooms.
“It was long overdue,” said Jeff Kipp, the construction manager who oversees projects funded by the district’s 2004 Measure C4 school improvement bond.
A majority of the projects, about $17.2 million in upgrades and new construction, are being funded by the bond this summer, said Ron Todo, associate superintendent of business and facilities.
Another $750,000 in so-called deferred maintenance projects are being paid for from a special fund within the district’s general budget, he said.
At Simi Valley High School, a combination of bond money and deferred maintenance funding is being used to install a new $840,000 synthetic athletic field and rubberized track at the football stadium, replacing the worn-out artificial turf installed in 2005.
“The state considers something like this a luxury,” Avila said during a stop at the high school to check on the project’s progress. “The state will not pay for a synthetic field or a rubberized track. We have to fund something like this separately.”
Workers were expected to complete the synthetic field by mid-August, rolling out and stitching the pieces together “like a giant quilt,” Avila said.
At Santa Susana Elementary, digging on the approximately $250,000 project to fix a drainage problem that let rainwater from the quad area seep under doors of nearby classrooms started right after the semester ended June 3.
Almost immediately, however, the bulldozers uncovered a complication.
Over the years, not one but three layers of asphalt had been installed over the quad, one atop the other, making the dozers’ job of grading the site for a new coat of concrete much more time-consuming.
“This area was built at a time when there were no storm drains in the city. So everything had to drain across the campus and work its way out toward the street that way because the land naturally slopes that way,” Avila said. “We want to reconfigure and redesign the area between the buildings and the quad so that water flows more naturally.”
Although drainage on the campus was poor, the school’s buildings— designed in a unique ranch-style architecture, with pitched-roofed classrooms that allow sunlight to enter through tall windows— are in good shape, he said.
“They don’t make schools like this anymore. The school is still in great condition, so you want to protect it,” he said.
Although the excavation work was progressing a bit slowly, Avila was confident most of the major construction will be finished when teachers arrive to get settled in two weeks before classes begin.
“We want to do the most dangerous portion of the projects during the summer when the fewest number of kids are around or, better yet, when a school is closed,” he said.
“If we’re not 100 percent finished, then I want to be sure it’s safe. My No. 1 standard is safety. As long as it’s safe for the kids on the first day of school, then we can always go back and finish the minor details later.”