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Architects Present Plan for New Fairmont School—Big on Green

Due to be rebuilt, Fairmont presents a special challenge because of the small parcel size.

has waited longer than most in the district to be rebuilt, but will benefit from what the West Contra Costa Unified School District has learned as it has replaced or renovated most of its campuses over the past several years, project architects and district officials told school staff, families, and neighbors at a presentation Thursday night.

One key way that the rebuilt or renovated campuses have evolved is in their environmental practices. The plans for the new Fairmont include outdoor areas that not only provide greenery and play areas but also “outdoor classroom” areas for learning, explained Jorge Rico of Hibser Yamauchi Architects.

Other “green school” practices include having plants native to the Bay Area, capturing rainwater to water the plants, and use of natural lighting as much as possible, said Rico.

The school district has adopted the green building practices of the Collaborative for High Performance Schools. According to the group’s website, characteristics of a high performance school include being healthy, energy efficient, and easy to maintain and operate.

The Fairmont project is unusual because of planned accommodations for the large population of students with special needs and, at about three acres, the compact size of the site.

“This is an incredibly small piece of property,” said Rico. Because of the small space, plans call for the main classroom building to be two stories high and for no additions to existing parking.

The two-story building will have elevators. The “universal” play structure is to be accessible to students who use wheelchairs, and some classrooms will have restrooms to accommodate special-needs students.

Rico said the project could be done in two phases to allow the school to continue to operate at its current location but that it is also possible the district will decide to relocate students to another site during the rebuild. Some Fairmont parents have expressed concern that it could be disruptive to have construction going on so close to classrooms.

Bill Savidge, the school district’s engineering officer, said the project could be completed more quickly if classes were moved to another location while work is done.

Rico presented drawings of what the school could look like but said, “This is a conceptual master plan.” There will be additional meetings, he said, in which parents and neighbors will have the opportunity to have input about the new school.

Savidge said the plan will go before the board’s Facilities Subcommittee April 12 and then is expected to go to the full board in May.

Construction could start in 1½ to two years if the district “goes full bore” on it, said Savidge, and the building itself would take an estimated 30 months to three years.

Fairmont began in its first building 1903, according to most historical accounts, and the current building was completed in 1958.

Six elementary schools are slated for work under the Measure D approved by voters in 2010 (another bond measure called Measure D was passed in 2002): Coronado, Stege, Highland, Valley View and Wilson, all in Richmond, in addition to Fairmont. The order in which the school board decides to tackle those projects will help determine when Fairmont is completed.

Estimated cost of the new school is $30 million.

For information on the history of Fairmont Elementary School, see the Summer 2007 editor of The Forge, the newsletter of the El Cerrito Historical Society.

EC Parent April 04, 2011 at 06:56 AM
Fairmont Parents and students have fought school closures in the past. We have waited patiently while other "newer" schools such as Madera and Harding received a face-lift. It is our time to get this school rebuilt - when the most recent bond measure came up for a vote, Ramsey had said Fairmont will be at the top of the list. I'm not sure why Fairmont is now on the list with those other schools in Richmond. It seems Fairmont always gets the short end of the stick.
Tim April 04, 2011 at 07:47 PM
I share the frustration of @EC Parent about the delays. But as I have parsed this situation in my mind, I have concluded that the district is doing its best for Fairmont. The other projects on the current list were started before Fairmont and are thus closer to construction and completion. Mr. Ramsey was someone disingenuous (or perhaps merely optimistic) in his comments at the meeting where they asked for Fairmont PTA's endorsement about the time it would take to get this done. But Mr. Savidge has been pretty candid about the schedules and obstacles. Now that Measure D funding can go forward, I think all Fairmont parents need -- more than ever -- to stay involved and tell the district what the school needs and wants for its future. We need also to maintain our commitment to the students during the construction phase so that Fairmont emerges with not only new school buildings but an even stronger track record of academics, parent involvement, and growth activities.

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