The new expected completion time for a replacement campus for Portola Middle School is now the third quarter of 2016, according to a presentation made Saturday at the Castro Clubhouse, just a stone’s throw from the future site of the school.
The project has seen many delays since voters approved funding as part of 2002’s Measure D, starting with the discovery that the site of the old Portola Middle School on Navellier Street was unsuitable to rebuild on because of a combination of slide and earthquake instability.
The West Contra Costa Unified School District then planned to take over the Fairmont Elementary School site for a replacement middle school. Opposition to that plan caused the district to go back and weigh the benefits of possible sites more thoroughly. It ultimately opted to convert Castro Elementary School, on Donal Avenue between Norvell and Lawrence streets. Castro students were reassigned to other campuses at the end of the 2008-09 school year, but legal action from neighbors further delayed plans for the new middle school.
District officials at Saturday’s meeting attributed the most recent delay to last-minute modifications to the project, based largely on lessons the district has learned in recent years as it has undertaken rebuilding most of its schools.
The plans are largely with modifications such as changes in the windows as part of an effort to standardize those used throughout the district to make repair easier, and the addition of “green” roofs featuring living plants on two buildings. Advantages of the environmentally friendly roofs, said architect Marcus Hibser, are energy savings and less glare visible to neighbors than the roofs the district otherwise would have been required to use by law.
The updated plans were submitted to the state Dec. 3 and approval of the revisions is expected in the first quarter of 2013. The project is expected to go out to bid in the second quarter of 2013, with construction beginning in the third quarter of 2013 and lasting 3 years.
Portola students have been housed in portables on the black-topped lower section of the old Portola property since the 2010-11 school year. The delay in construction of a new Portola will also delay rebuilding of Fairmont Elementary School since once the Portola temporary campus is no longer needed for middle school students, the school district intends to use it to house Fairmont classes while that school is rebuilt.
About 60 people, including parents and neighbors, attended the presentation, which was organized by a group formed last year to bolster the middle school. In introducing the speakers, Bobbie Dowling of GoPortola said the project is important to the community and urged the school district to keep the public informed of its progress.
The presentation was led by project architect Hibser, and Superintendent Bruce Harter, director of facilities and construction E. Keith Holtslander, and bond regional facilities project manager Andrew Mixer helped answer questions. School board president Charles Ramsey and board member elect Todd Groves, who will be sworn in at Wednesday night’s meeting, were in the audience.
In designing the project, Hibser said, his firm followed two promises to the community: to make the buildings no taller than the existing ones and not to encroach on Castro Park, which includes tennis courts, fields, play structures, and the clubhouse where the meeting was held.
Cost of construction of the new school is estimated at $48 million. It is designed to accommodate 600 students, according to Hibser. Portola currently has 525, he said.
Castro’s main building and another wing directly behind it, separated by a small breezeway, will be retained but the interiors extensively renovated to accommodate the older students. Castro’s kindergarten building and its multipurpose room will be demolished.
A new building housing a library, gym, and administrative offices will go where the kindergarten building is now, while a new multipurpose room and drama and music classrooms will replace the old multipurpose room. All portables will be removed. New space for California Children’s Services, now located in portables along Lawrence Street, is being developed at Downer Elementary School and is expected to be completed in the spring. A new, two-story classroom wing will be added on the northern side of the site.
The exterior areas will change significantly as well. Along Lawrence Street, a courtyard area will extend off the multipurpose room with additional lunch seating and basketball courts, and parking will be added next to the intersection of Lawrence Street with Donal Avenue. Basketball courts, parking, and a garden are planned for next to Norvell Street.
In response to questions from the audience, the presenters said that any changes to the traffic patterns around the school would be determined by the city, and that most of the trees that the district intends to cut down have already been removed.
A tile mural on the front of the school created by French artist Isabelle Delloye and children at the school in 1999, and set by teacher Dan Mac Donald, will be preserved, Mixer told Patch.
Mixer also told Patch that efforts begun last year to preserve artifacts from the old school have continued. Items are in storage at the temporary campus with plans to create museum-type displays in the new campus, similar to what was done to preserve mementoes from the old campus when El Cerrito High was rebuilt.
Little remains of the old Portola Middle School buildings on the land above the temporary campus. Demolition crews have been on site since spring, first removing hazardous waste and more recently knocking down the buildings on the hilly property. The final grading will be followed by hydroseeding to create a grassy field with work expected to be completed by mid-February.
The long-term fate of the site has not been decided. There has been talk of the city possibly utilizing some of the site for recreational purposes, but Saturday’s presenters noted that the city is short on funds right now, that part of the site will still be needed for years for the temporary campus – first for Portola and then Fairmont, and that the market for selling property will hopefully improve in a few years.