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School Renovations In High Gear
Working on a project to bring the school into ADA compliance, a crew from RFC Inc. out of Oakdale applies paint and dust to a truncated dome paver at the high school. From left, Bob Riggs, Chris Medeiros and Franco Ruiz work together on the project. - photo by Marg Jackson/The Times

Refurbished classrooms, a totally redesigned agricultural and ag mechanics wing, fresh paint, a new look … Escalon High School is getting quite the facelift this summer.

Crews have been working steadily since the end of the last school year – and in the case of the ag wing, even before that – on the first phase of a multi-phase, multi-million dollar school facilities improvement project. Work will be done eventually at all district campuses, though Escalon High School has been the focus of this first phase. But with just a week left before the start of the 2014-15 school year on Aug. 13, it will mean a huge push to get things in shape for a smooth start to the year.

Recently, crews were busy painting classrooms, gutting hallways, re-fitting rooms with new air conditioning and heating ductwork and more.

“It’s going to be a trying year, working around the construction,” admitted Escalon Unified School District Superintendent Ron Costa, noting that work on a number of classrooms and areas of the school will continue even after classes resume.

“But when you see the finished product, it will be worth it.”

For the work that has been completed, Costa said it is almost like walking in to a new school.

“Those classrooms are 21st century, the classrooms are now energy efficient, modern, the technology has been upgraded,” Costa said.

Dual pane insulated windows, storage space for teachers, new white boards and interactive projectors, all will help create a better learning environment for the students. Also new, Costa said, is the grouping of classrooms by subject area, so teachers in each subject area are close together and able to network more efficiently.

New keys provide added security on the campus and the addition of new sidewalks helps the district meet ADA compliance issues, along with the planting of drought resistant plants in some areas to beautify the school grounds.

Costa said not all the work planned for the high school is being done in this first phase, though other phases will follow and have been provided for through a bond approved by voters. The work will also extend to the district’s four elementary schools and El Portal Middle School as well, in the multi-year plan. This summer’s effort and the first phase of work accounts for about $8 million of an approved $19 million bond.

Costa said some of the work at the high school will not be done when classes start, such as some hallways, but the work areas will be cordoned off and staff and students will work around them.

“It has been a difficult summer, with a lot of construction everywhere,” Costa pointed out, noting that the power was down for a week at the end of June during a portion of the project, resulting in an unexpected vacation for office staff. There has also been shuffling of personnel during the project and Costa said it will take a while for everyone to settle in and be ready for school.

A large portion of the work, he added, will be eligible for state matching funds, if and when the state has money in the school construction fund to match what Escalon has spent.

“We also have done a lot of things at other sites this summer,” Costa added. “We did some re-carpeting and upgrading of technology at Van Allen, Collegeville and Farmington, we did fencing projects at the rural schools and at El Portal to make those campuses more secure.”

Escalon will also welcome 17 new teachers this year and has done some administrative shuffling as well, with Stephanie (DeFreitas) Parker coming in as the new assistant principal for Escalon High School, as Talmage Allen moves to take over as principal at Van Allen. Anna Ellerson is the new principal for Collegeville and Farmington, previously the assistant principal at Dent. Anthony Varni will now be the Dent principal and Matt Loretelli moves from his high school teaching position to become the assistant principal at Dent. Former Dent principal Kendra Helsley has a new post in the district office, Director of Student Services.

All staff members will be at their school sites Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 11 and 12, with school bells ringing for students on Wednesday, Aug. 13.