COAST CITIES — A steady construction buzz can be heard at La Costa Meadows Elementary School while the beginnings of $33.5 million in expansions and upgrades turn the coastal campus into a larger and more permanent learning environment.
The tap, tap of a hammer continued steadily as school staff, students and their parents gathered on the playground with a distant ocean view for a recent Friday morning flag salute ceremony. The business-as-usual activities going on throughout the campus belie major changes that are planned or already underway.
Since June, progress has been made on replacing 38 portable and modular classrooms with two separate two-story buildings containing 19 classrooms each, for a total of 38 new permanent classrooms.
Along with that will be library and multipurpose room expansions, an administration office renovation and expansion and kindergarten and kitchen modernizations and expansions. To top it off, the school is in the process of reconfiguring the student drop-off/pick-up and parking lot area, and plans to install a solar lunch shelter and parking lot shade in addition to adding landscaping to beautify the campus.
“The priority of the project is creating the best possible learning environment for our students,” said La Costa Meadows Principal Adam Klimas.
Located within the San Marcos Unified School District but situated within the city of Carlsbad, the financial resources for the extensive upgrades that will occur during the next two years are made available through a $287 million facilities bond approved by voters as Proposition K in 2010. The budget for the La Costa Meadows project is $33.5 million.
Tova Corman, executive director of Facilities Planning and Development for the San Marcos school district, said a portion of the bond money was also earmarked for rebuilding San Marcos High School and adding 24 classrooms, building a gym addition and lockers at San Marcos Middle School, and reconstructing Alvin Dunn Elementary along with other projects such as technology upgrades at all campuses in the district.
In 2005, before the bond measure was presented to voters, Corman said the San Marcos Unified School District had hired a consultant to help conduct a facilities needs assessment and to prioritize which schools would be allocated a portion of the bond proceeds and in what order. Within the last year, two community meetings were held to explain La Costa Meadows’ plans to neighbors with Corman, the architect, contractor and the school district’s assistant superintendent of business services participating.
Few changes have occurred on the La Costa Meadows campus since opening in a suburban neighborhood at Corintia and El Fuerte streets in September 1986. Some portable classrooms were added in 2000 to accommodate growth, but Klimas says that growth has plateaued at 900 students the past four years and even dipped to 880 students in the current school year. Klimas says more portables were added in 2015 to loosen a tight fit on campus when California law implemented reduced class sizes to a ratio of 24 students per one teacher in the transitional kindergarten through third grades.
The central driver of the new construction is adding permanency, according to Corman, who says the main building containing the library, multipurpose room, kitchen, administration office and staff lounge along with two kindergarten classrooms are the only permanent structures on the campus. All the other buildings currently on campus are either modular or portable, she said.
The two classroom buildings being added, one on the east side of campus near the P.E. field and one on the west side of campus near Corintia Street, bring a combined 50,000 square feet of classroom space. The main building serving ancillary functions will be enlarged by a total of 10,000 square feet.
Work already began on the eastern classroom building in June and is expected to continue through August 2018. Work is scheduled to start on the western classroom building in June 2018 and continue through August 2019. Construction crews will work on the main building’s expansions next summer with extensive renovations and remodeling to the interior the following summer. All of the modernization work to the two permanent kindergarten classrooms in the main building has already been completed.
Corman said the lengthy timeline is due to their focus on creating permanent buildings without relying on temporary classrooms.
“The primary reason it’s taking so long is because we do not have temporary housing,” she said, noting that school staff have been very supportive of the project. “We’ll make sure the money all goes to permanent buildings.”
Vicki Brown, one of the school’s Parent Teacher Organization presidents, is enthusiastic about the planned improvements and says they’ve been well overdue.
“It’s going to be a great expansion for the teachers, the kids and for learning in general,” Brown said. “There’s not a downside to any of it. Our kids will be able to have the equipment, the room and updated technology to be able to learn.”
One of the upgrades she’s looking forward to seeing implemented is the installation of 16-foot marker boards, each with a projector that can be used interactively to write or draw on using a finger or pen. In essence, teachers will be able to write notes on documents projected from the computer.
Brown says she’s already seen changes for the better since construction began. The school now has a dedicated music space beyond just sharing the multipurpose room, there’s space for art classes and the teacher prep room for photocopying has been moved out of a trailer and into permanent space.
Details Corman says are being incorporated in the new classrooms include adding adequate storage, energy-efficient bright lights to promote a healthier environment and sufficient electrical outlets for technology needs. Other planned conveniences include moving the Kids on Campus, or KOC, child care facility to a dedicated space the size of three classrooms with an accessible entrance closer to the cafeteria.
One thing the parents will notice is improved safety and access when dropping off and picking up their kids from school. The sidewalks now lead directly to the crosswalk, plus a ramp and stairs have smoothed the flow in front of the school. The city also added a U-turn at El Fuerte and Corintia during the summer to help alleviate traffic congestion. The school parking lot has had an increase in parking spaces from 51 to 100, and a passing lane will be introduced by the final summer, in August 2019, so parents can exit the parking lot quickly after pick-ups and drop-offs.
Brown said she’s excited about being able to carry on the school’s Halloween Carnival fundraiser Oct. 20 and Oct. 21 on the lower field and playground that’s been an annual tradition for the past 31 years.
“We’re even adding rides,” she says of the three extra rides and spooky haunted house add-ons. “There’s been no impact. It’s been great planning the district has put in place.”