Public preview of school projects set for Thursday |

Public preview of school projects set for Thursday

by Scott Neuffer

More than two years after residents approved a continuation bond for school improvements, the Douglas County School District is undertaking massive renovation of two elementary schools in the Valley.

Members of the public have a chance this Thursday to preview construction proposals for Pinon Hills and Gardnerville elementary schools. Both projects are expected to hit ground this summer and be completed by the following year.

At 5:30 p.m. at Gardnerville Elementary, district officials and construction managers will present plans for an estimated $4-5 million modernization of the district’s oldest existing school.

“GES is rather an extensive proposal,” said Superintendent Lisa Noonan. “It includes a new multipurpose room, new classrooms, moving everything out of the old heritage building, additional off-street traffic circulation and parking.”

Noonan said the project is intended to increase the school’s life-span by another 30-50 years.

“We’re addressing multiple areas of safety, efficiency, additional space and equity,” she said. “We’re hoping parents come, but anyone in the community is welcome to come. A lot of people raised their children at GES and may be interested in seeing what’s going to happen.”

Gardnerville Elementary Principal Shannon Brown explained how the existing multipurpose room and offices will be demolished to make room for a new entrance and parking lot. What is now the playground will be moved north toward the soccer fields, and a new wing of eight classrooms and offices will be extended perpendicularly from an existing hall. At the end of the new wing will stand a new multipurpose room, twice the size of the current one, allowing all students to assemble with plenty of elbow room.

“It will have a huge impact on scheduling,” Brown said. “Right now, we rotate two grade levels at a time.”

Safety concerns will be addressed as well, such as removing defunct gas lines from existing buildings. The heritage building, built in 1917, will be separated from the school and potentially used by the district for other purposes.

“If you look at modern educational specs, the old building just doesn’t cut it,” Brown said. “The brick building separates the campus. Unifying all of us in one building will centralize supervision and safety.”

The remodel will also help relieve traffic congestion in front of the school during peak hours, Brown said. He said plans include recommendations from the Keep Improving Douglas Schools committee as well.

“It will completely change the look of GES,” he said.

Another public meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Pinon Hills Elementary to review and discuss an estimated $4 million expansion that will add capacity to the most overcrowded elementary school in the district.

Noonan said another wing will be added, including seven regular education classrooms, an extra room for special programs, rest rooms, office space and storage. There will also be a small amount of renovation inside the existing structure to increase space for special programs.

Built in 1996, a third pod for the school was never built, and the current structure was designed for 475 students. However, enrollment has consistently been above 500. In fact, Pinon Hills is one of the only schools that has grown in population while overall enrollment in the district has declined.

In 2009, school board members considered portables as a temporary solution to the crowding problem, but they held off in anticipation of a new facilities master plan. Both projects, GES and Pinon Hills, are part of phase 1 of that plan, which board members adopted last year.

“I’m excited that we’re finally here,” said Pinon Hills Principal Rommy Cronin. “Walking through the building, you can see we’re bursting at the seams in a variety of ways, not just in regular classrooms, but also special programs. We need more space to provide the programs students deserve.”

Cronin said the new wing will be built on the south side of the campus. She hopes construction will be completed by Christmas break.

“The renovation at GES is much more complex,” she said. “Hopefully, we’ll be moving forward more quickly.”

Cronin said the school’s parent-teacher organization earmarked money to renovate the playground when construction is finished. She said the community has come together behind the improvements.

“I’m grateful to have the bond money,” she said. “I’m grateful the community was able to support us and keep the bond going for changes not only in new construction, but in renovation to make a better learning environment for kids.”

In the district’s 10-year facilities master plan, the remainder of phase 1 includes renovations of Meneley and Jacks Valley elementary schools.

Phase 2 calls for the closure of one middle school in the Valley, leaving the other open for grades 7-8, the consolidation of grades 9-12 at Douglas High School, and the potential conversion of one elementary school into a kindergarten-8th-grade program.

Phase 3 of the facilities master plan calls for converting Whittell High School into a K-12 program and renovating Scarselli Elementary for additional capacity.

In total, the three phases are estimated to cost $57.9 million, taking into account an annual inflationary rate of 5 percent. The most expensive measure in the plan is the renovation of Douglas High School to accommodate ninth-graders, which is estimated to cost nearly $23 million.

Also part of the district’s overall plan is figuring out what to do with Kingsbury Middle School, which closed in 2008. The district’s intention is to sell the property, Noonan said.

“In the next few months, we’ll be reviewing all NRS relating to closed schools,” she said. “It’s very strict. There are a lot of guidelines and pretty specific steps in the appraisal process.”

Noonan said the district will be hosting a public forum at the Lake this spring to gather ideas and input from community members.

“We would like to be proactive and reach out to universities, community colleges or other government agencies,” she said. “We want to make sure everyone out there knows it’s going to be available. With Douglas County’s economic vitality plan and the Lake Tahoe Basin Prosperity Plan, there’s been a lot of talk about cooperation and government agencies working together to boost the economic vitality of the region. We hope something really positive comes out of it.”