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Chabot opens as construction nears unveiling

on September 8, 2009

When students arrived back at Chabot Elementary School last week, the great construction demonstration in their own old play yard had grown to two stories high and was covered in scaffolding.

“It’s a great experience for kids to see their school being built,” said Chabot second grade teacher Marybeth Tullis, who’s worked at the school for eleven years. “Last week the kids were able to interview a construction worker about his job.”

Chabot’s new multi-purpose building and library are expected to open within the next three weeks. Construction began in June 2008, and the school community has had to adapt to transitions every year since. They’ve moved portables in and out of the schoolyard, have had to condense the playground to a small area on the lower yard, and are without a walking path between the upper and lower sections of campus.  By the end of the school year, school officials say, more than half the school’s many portables will have been cleared away, while two new buildings and a renovated multi-purpose building turned library will be unveiled.

“We’ve done well in reaching our goal,” said Chabot principal Jonathan Mayer. “I feel very fortunate.”

The construction of the two new buildings and the room renovation were funded by Measure B, the $435 million Oakland Unified School District’s school facilities improvement bond that was passed in 2006. The bond’s mandate includes the repair and upgrade of school buildings to meet current safety standards, and the construction of new libraries, classrooms, science and computer labs. Chabot has been granted $18.9 million with a plan to have a new Kindergarten through 2nd grade building, a multi-purpose building, and renovated building turned library.

Before construction began, Chabot had one school building that was built in the 1920s and continues to house 6 classrooms for a student population of 515. The rest of the school takes place in portables–18 classroom and 2 after-school-programming portables on the upper and lower playgrounds. The upper playground has so many portables, that it’s been coined the nickname, “Portable City.”

Before Chabot received bond money, there were portables on campus that had been used since the 1940s. They were in bad condition with mildew, no insulation and poor ventilation. “You could see and smell the mold,” said Jody London, a Chabot parent and school board member who campaigned for passing Measure B. “It was an unsafe situation.” In June of 2008, the 60 year old portables were replaced.

The new library is being constructed in what was once the multi-purpose room. The library had originally been located in a small room in the main building that has since turned into a music classroom. The former multi-purpose building was used for school wide assemblies, but fit only half the student population. In response to this, a new multi-purpose building is being built, with a grand opening scheduled for sometime during the next few weeks. It’s being created to provide an assembly space to fit the entire school at once. It includes tables and benches that extend from the walls for student lunches, a stage, and two mechanical garage doors that open to the playground.

The renovated multi-purpose building turned library has new wooden bookshelves that were funded by measure E, a parcel tax allocated to the district that included a mandate to maintain libraries. The library also has a new computer learning center. Jenny Ettinger, a Chabot parent since 1999, is the 3rd through 5th grade librarian and media specialist. “They used to cart computers from one classroom to the next,” Ettinger said. “Now, all of the students will have access to the computer lab that will eventually hold thirty Mac computers.”

Since Measure B only funds construction, the Parent Teachers Association came together to fundraise for classroom furniture and supplies such as new tables, chairs, and a portion of the computers. Their fundraising project developed into the “Way to Grow Campaign,” which has raised $123,000.00 of their $300,000.00 goal. Parents have also shown support by volunteering and advocating for the school’s needs in the planning process.

“It’s been a tremendous amount of work,” said Shelly Fierston, who has dedicated years to the construction project as the PTA Construction Liason, and has helped hold the project together as the contact person between the school community, the principal, and construction site. “But it’s been worthwhile for the community” Fierston said.

In spite of parent involvement, the construction hasn’t been without challenges.  Negotiations had to take place while the buildings were designed, and not all parents and teachers were satisfied with the final layout. The original plan was to move all classrooms from portables into building space.  But during the design process, it was decided that in order to stay within budget, the school would receive either a new multi-purpose building or classrooms that accommodated all the students.

The teachers and parents opted for a multi-purpose building. Six portables will remain. Although the students will regain most of the upper yard when construction finishes, they will have lost a former play structure and a student garden that took ten years to develop if the PTA can’t raise more funds.

According to the Oakland school district’s Projects Schedule, over 40 schools have been scheduled to undergo maintenance, design, and construction projects from  fall of 2008 to spring of 2010, with funds coming from Measure B and the State School Construction Budget. Lincoln Elementary in West Oakland last month celebrated the opening of a new school building, and the Cox Campus’s Reach Academy Elementary in East Oakland is expected to finish construction of a new classroom building in spring 2010.

“The students are excited about the new buildings,” said Chabot fourth grade teacher Jennifer Haynes. “It helps students take pride in their school and to care about it.”

1 Comment

  1. Rachel on September 8, 2009 at 11:29 am

    This was very interesting and the school is so cute! You should venture over to my blog and read about some innovative classroom architecture 🙂

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