Solana Highlands Elementary School is ready to debut its new look, now that the finishing touches have been placed on the school’s $7 million modernization.
After 30 years of educating students, the Carmel Valley school was in need of a refresh and it was made possible due to the passage of Solana Beach School District’s $105 million Measure JJ school bond in 2016. A ribbon-cutting celebration for the new and improved Solana Highlands will be held on Friday, Jan. 12 as part of an all-school assembly at 8:35 a.m.
McCarthy Construction came in and did the demolition over one week in June and most of the work was completed over the summer by the time school started. Some administration areas were completed this fall and the school opened its new kitchen and student food service just before Thanksgiving.
“We are so pleased with the outcome and so excited that the students now have access to the entire campus,” said Caroline Brown, executive director of capital programs and technology.
“Because this modernization required financial support from our community through Measure JJ, what is most significant is the commitment our families and community have for supporting our school and the care they show to our teachers, staff and, most importantly, students,” said Principal Matthew Frumovitz.
Brown said the siding, frosted glass windows of the entrance and standing seam roof gives the school a much more modern look than the stucco and wood of the old campus. Fans of the dolphins that adorned the school’s old entry should not fret — they have been kept and will find a new home somewhere on campus, Brown said.
The exterior improvements include new paint and new school lettering, turf on new seating walls, and new fencing along the frontage of the school which allows for each classroom to have space for outdoor instruction. Before, those classrooms opened out into the parking lot so they weren’t able to take advantage of that space.
A portion of the old courtyard became the expanded school lobby, which includes a more visitor-friendly reception area and an expanded health office with its own entrance. New carpet was installed throughout and the Foundation purchased all new chairs for students that offer a bit more flexibility and comfort in the classroom.
New heating, air conditioning and ventilation units were installed so the school is much more energy efficient and a safety upgrade was made with the new fire alarm and voice evacuation system.
McCarthy took out the walls and redid the concrete in the school’s enclosed interior patios, opening them up to make more room for instruction, tables and for the incoming precision agriculture robot, the FarmBot. The FarmBot, also installed this year at Solana Ranch Elementary School, can be programmed to perform almost all processes prior to harvesting, including sowing, weed control and watering. A solar panel and battery provides the electricity.
Outside, the shade structure over the lunch shelter was replaced and the old round tables were swapped for new rectangle ones to fit more kids. The bathrooms were also redone, replacing the old pink tiles with a fresh new green.
Artificial turf was also added to the kindergarten play area.
Throughout the campus, many upgrades were made to make the school more Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant, such as removing the steps from the below the exterior drinking fountains and lowering the fixtures.
“This is our prize,” said Brown entering the new indoor food service area, the only one in the district that will now serve as the model for all of the schools — Skyline will get one in its rebuild. “We now have a lot more space to do the fast scratch cooking that we want to do, with the emphasis on fresh.”
Open for just a few weeks, the school now not only has a full-service kitchen with a smart oven, cook tops, walk-in refrigerator and freezer, but there is a service counter where kids can grab from displays and move their trays along to get hot and cold items and take from the salad bar. Before, the food service area just had a roll-up door and kids were served at carts.
In addition to improved spaces for students, the staff also benefited from the upgrades with an enlarged teacher’s lounge and more storage space. The administration area is roomier and the conference room was detached from the principal’s office so both have large, separate spaces.
Brown said so far the district has been happy with the progress on Measure JJ projects. The district’s biggest project, the complete reconstruction of Skyline Elementary School in Solana Beach, still has a ways to go but classrooms will be complete by fall 2018.
In 2018, the district is expected to begin planning for its next Measure JJ projects: the reconstruction of Solana Vista and the modernization of Solana Santa Fe and Carmel Creek Elementary Schools.
The district’s Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee (ICOC), which monitors all bond expenditures, has been meeting since July. The seven-member committee will meet again in January and all meeting dates and minutes are posted on school district’s website, sbsd.k12.ca.us.