Fresno, Clovis schools make progress on construction projects

The Fresno BeeJuly 30, 2013 

The steel beams forming the outer perimeter of the new Rutherford B. Gaston Middle School in southwest Fresno will soon be covered by cement plaster and metal tiles.

Construction crews are sweating through summer to complete the new school -- named after Fresno Unified School District's first African-American principal -- by next August, just in time for the 2014-15 school year.

The site is one of several school building projects underway in Fresno Unified and Clovis Unified this summer. Workers are installing storm drains and planting grass at Roosevelt High School, and over at Hoover High School, a new two-story classroom building is set to open next month. Clovis Unified schools, meanwhile, are getting new buildings and upgrades.

At Gaston, located on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Church Avenue, window and door frames line soon-to-be built hallways. Concrete staircases spiral up to the school's second floor, where classrooms and a library will serve 800 to 1,000 youngsters.

The $36.7 million schoolhouse has been in the works for several years. It sits on a 26-acre site that was once home to Carver Academy School, more than 40 residential homes, a flood control basin and a church. Including the costs to relocate residents and the basin, the project will cost $56.6 million and is being funded through Measures Q and K bonds.

"This project is probably the hardest project we will ever do in Fresno Unified," said Karin Temple, assistant superintendent for operations and facilities.

The school's land, where tractors and loaders are now hauling pipes and sheetrock, is marked by a unfavorable history. Part of the site was once called "The U" and was notorious for crime, drug deals and gang confabs. But those days are over, said facilities manager Lincoln Owensby, who says he hopes the new school will reshape the community.

More than 600 southwest Fresno students are currently bused across the city to attend class. They will now have their own neighborhood school, Owensby said. Gaston will be the first middle school in the area since Irwin Junior High School closed in 1979.

Roosevelt, Hoover get upgrades

A two-acre quad that's now a giant field of dirt will soon become a grassy corridor at Roosevelt. More than 100 trees, an amphitheater and a concession stand are being built north of the school's athletics facilities.

The new $2.9 million common area is part of a revitalization project at Roosevelt that rids the school of most of its portable classrooms and adds permanent teaching spaces on the school's eastern side.

"It's very much like a university campus," Owensby said. "Compared to some of our other schools that have covered corridors, you can go in and out of multistory buildings here much like a university campus. It just has a different feel."

Hoover High construction crews are also hard at work this month on a two-story, 20-classroom building off of Barstow Avenue.

The $8.9 million green-and-beige building will be home to biology instructors and other teachers who have already begun moving in.

A proposed new aquatics center on the other side of Hoover's campus is next on the list as part of the school's master plan, Owensby said. But that project still needs approval from Fresno Unified trustees.

Clovis schools revamped

About half of the nine modernization projects underway at Clovis Unified will be ready by mid-August, said Don Ulrich, assistant superintendent for facilities services. That includes a $19 million project that adds a new 1,000-square-foot administration building at Clovis High School and classroom upgrades across the campus.

Pinedale Elementary School is also on track to get new kindergarten and multipurpose buildings. Ulrich said the district has demolished an old facility to make way for the $5.7 million project slated for completion in August 2014.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, or @hannahfurfaro on Twitter.

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