Rincon Valley Union schools are undergoing major facelifts as part of a $60 million-plus overhaul, with construction crews expected to complete work on the eight campuses in the next two years.
About $11.5 million in improvements will be finished this summer at Village Elementary School, as well as the adjacent district office and bus depot. The work — the majority set to be completed by early August — includes reconfiguring the parking lot and installing a shaded outdoor lunch area and rubberized track, as well as improving blacktops and sidewalks to reduce congestion and make them more handicap accessible.
“The school was not designed for all the traffic that schools bring nowadays, and dismissal can really be rather chaotic,” Deputy Superintendent Joe Pandolfo said of the campus built in the 1950s. “One of the goals is to get cars off the street and make for a safer way (for kids) to be picked up and dropped off.”
The first phase of work at the school was finished last year and included construction of two custom classrooms, dedicated music room and safety upgrades to the school office.
Similar renovations were completed at Matanzas Elementary in 2017, and will be wrapped up at Madrone and Francis Binkley elementary schools by the summer of 2019. Sidewalk and landscaping improvements are scheduled for the following summer at Sequoia, Douglas Whited, Austin Creek and Spring Creek elementary schools.
The improvements are being paid for by state and local dollars, the bulk coming from Measure F, a $35 million bond voters approved in 2014 by a 2-to-1 margin to make critical renovations and safety upgrades to schools in the K-8 school district in east Santa Rosa.
“This is a thoughtful program with minimal overhead so the maximum resources are used on facilities, not teams of consultants,” said district Superintendent Tony Roehrick. “With these resources, we are systematically upgrading current facilities to be energy efficient and to have the infrastructure to support 21st century learning practices.”
Santa Rosa architect Dan Hardin, who lives in the district and attended Matanzas, is overseeing construction. As part of the work, he aims to make the schools more pedestrian-friendly, as they were in the early 1980s, when he’d ride his Schwinn from campus to campus with friends for soccer games.
“I’ve kind of come full circle,” Hardin said. “It’s a different world where parents drive kids to school even if they live just a few blocks away, so we’re doing everything we can to encourage kids to walk and ride their bikes.”
All eight schools are also receiving state-of-the-art wireless internet access hubs and updated ceiling lighting. Campuses that don’t already have air conditioning will have it installed.
New outdoor play structures are included in the districtwide makeover, too, with separate equipment geared toward kindergarten and the upper-grade levels.
“That’s a big deal for kids, because they like playing outside. The structures we had before were pretty antiquated,” said Pandolfo. “And we replaced all the wood chip surfaces with rubberized material, which makes a safer environment to play on.”
Crews are installing solar panels at the schools and district office to increase energy efficiencies, generating up to 70 percent of each school’s electricity needs, Pandolfo said. Madrone will be the only school without them because of issues with the campus layout.