$125 million plan to be complete spring 2009

A crane towers over the construction site where the tree-lined middle school parking lot once stood. Bulldozers trudge through the dirt, and workmen stand atop the skeletons of steel structures with heat in the high 80s. Vice President John Amato stands in the middle of the site, pointing to an illustration.

“It looks like the Florida peninsula,” he says. “So I’ve always called it Florida.”

He is referring to a rough sketch of what he hopes the Middle School campus will look like in the spring of 2009. The picture is an aerial view of the finished campus, and does indeed bear a resemblance to Florida. But for now, the site is a massive expanse of brown dirt, black steel and yellow construction vehicles. Amato came to work every day this summer with a hard hat on his head rather than a briefcase in hand. Instead of solely carrying out his usual administrative duties, he is supervising the $125 million modernization project at the Middle School.

As the first year of construction comes to an end, Amato says that the project is right on schedule.

“Construction-wise, we’re moving along at a good speed,” Amato said.
While it may not be a good thing for California’s crops, the lack of rain has helped the modernization move along at a steady rate, he added. 

Amato can be seen on the site giving tours to parents and trustees, talking to workers and making sure the process runs smoothly.

He is aided by Director of Campus Operations and Construction James De Matté, who has played an integral part in the modernization project.
Over the course of the summer, the steel structures for the new buildings on campus were fully erected.

“This is a milestone in the course of the project. It’s a huge thing for the community, the teachers and the kids to see,” De Matte said.

The project plans to expand the Middle School from the existing nine acres into a 15-acre campus. Up to this point, the employee parking lot, the development office and a small building for maintenance staff have been demolished.

However, the project has been planned so as not to interfere with students’ academic life.

“We can’t have a situation where the project is affecting [students’ learning], because we won’t get anywhere,” Amato said. “People are not sending kids here for the buildings. People are sending kids here to get an education.” 

Although construction hasn’t directly affected student life, it has made parking difficult for teachers and parents.

Teachers have had to carpool and find makeshift parking spaces.

The first phase of construction, which began in Sept. 2006, is scheduled to be finished in fall 2008. The new structures are being built on land adjacent to the campus, which the school purchased from Ron Perelman, CEO of Revlon Corporation.

The process is going very well, despite slowed construction when the Crane Operators of Southern California went on strike for two weeks in August, President Thomas C. Hudnut said.
 
However, the school was immediately able to bring in a replacement crane and a gigantic forklift to carry steel during the strike.

“We basically lost a day or two when everyone else [in Southern California] lost two weeks,” De Matte said. “That was huge.”
 
At this point in the construction, lightweight concrete is being installed over perforated metal decking, which makes up the floors of the steel structures.
On Aug. 24, a barbeque was held for the steel workers when the last beam of steel was laid down.

Keeping with the tradition popular among construction workers, all members of the crew and others involved in the project signed a banner which will forever remain draped over the last piece of steel.

Amato called it “a memento that is literally buried inside the project.”

De Matte estimated that there are about 36,000 pieces of steel on site. Out of those 36,000, only 10 beams were originally the wrong size.

“That was like a perfect job, and you never get a perfect job,” De Matte said. “Hats off to the steel company and the construction company for that.”

The first of the two buildings being erected will feature a library which is “bigger and better than any middle school library in the country,” Amato said.

Among the library’s new features are a reading room large enough to hold classes, a bigger tech center and more work space for academic research. The architecture of the new buildings is reminiscent of the current  administration building’s traditional Spanish design, and the library will  have cupolas to allow natural lighting. Nine science rooms already present at the Middle School will be equipped with state of the art technology,  Amato said.

The second structure will be home to the English, math and performing arts departments.
There will be a new auditorium that seats 850 and new soundproof practice rooms for musicians.

Additionally, a new cafeteria and bookstore will be attached to this academic building.

A larger lower lawn will replace the current one and will stretch between the library/science and academic buildings. If all goes according to plan, middle school students will start school in the new buildings one year from now.
 
In the second phase, the administration building, built 86 years ago, will be demolished, along with the current music building and library.
 
Reynolds Hall will remain standing and be used for the fine arts, language classes and possibly history, Amato said.

The Marshall Center will also stay untouched by the construction and be used exclusively for physical education and athletics.

In addition,  a regulation size football/soccer field  about 120 yards long and 53 yards wide will be built where Sprague field and the administration building stand.

“It will not only allow us to have fuller games in terms of field space but also allow us to practice more teams on campus so we won’t have to travel as much,” Amato said, calling the current field “postage stamp” size compared to the future one.

Planners of the project hope to have the new campus completely finished by March 2009. Despite the expansion of the Middle School, the enrollment will remain the same.

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