New start for Eliot School

Gilroy Mayor Al Pinheiro, left, and Gilroy Unified School

– Standing where the principal’s office will go, the
superintendent, several school board members and Gilroy mayor used
ceremonial shovels to break ground for the new Eliot Elementary
School Monday morning.
By Lori Stuenkel

GILROY – Standing where the principal’s office will go, the superintendent, several school board members and Gilroy mayor used ceremonial shovels to break ground for the new Eliot Elementary School Monday morning.

Bulldozers were already at work, beginning what will be a challenging construction schedule to open the new school to students by the fall of 2006.

In one year, the now-empty lot at 470 Seventh St. will feature a two-story classroom wing, administration building and multi-purpose room with more than 50,000 square feet of space. It will be a marked improvement over the aging school – demolished six months ago – that is the only home for east Gilroy elementary students.

“We’re hoping this will be a focal point in this part of town as far as facilitating neighborhood and community pride,” Superintendent Edwin Diaz said.

When Gilroy Unified School District made the conversion from magnet schools to neighborhood-area schools two years ago, bringing facilities up to par in every part of town became a priority, he said.

“We need to have quality learning environments in each neighborhood,” Diaz said. “This is a perfect example because the facility was not very good. It did not have the capacity to accommodate all 600 students.”

The new building, designed by Kasavan Architects out of Salinas and built by S.J. Amoroso Construction of Redwood City, will have plenty of room. The classroom wing will have 22 rooms for first through fifth grades. A separate building will house four kindergarten classrooms and a third building will house administration, including Eliot Principal Diane Elia’s office, and the multi-purpose room.

“And it’s the first time in recent history that we’re going to have a two-story school,” Diaz said.

This is the second time Eliot, first built in the 1920s, is experiencing a re-birth. The new school will feature some much-needed amenities that the old facility was lacking, including restrooms for kindergartners and Internet access in classrooms. The multi-purpose room, at 6,675 square feet, is one notable addition that will bring Eliot’s facilities to the level of other schools and have an impact on students’ daily lives.

“Eliot didn’t have a kitchen before,” said Gary Corlett, GUSD construction manager. “Their food service was a closet. They actually didn’t have a lunch room at all to speak of.”

Diaz, school board trustees Jim Rogers, Bob Kraemer and John Gurich and Mayor Al Pinheiro overturned shovels of dirt Monday close to the future site of the administration building – near Old Gilroy Street – as district officials looked on. Three trees, which Corlett estimated were 50 years old, will remain on campus and mark what will be the west end of the administration building. Beyond those trees stand two redwoods towering hundreds of feet in the air that will eventually shade basketball courts on the southwest end of the campus, along Forest Street.

The school’s new staff parking and parent drop-off area will be along Old Gilroy Street on the south side of campus, while the bus drop-off will be on Seventh Street, the north side of campus.

The old Eliot buildings were demolished this spring. GUSD originally planned to include the demolition as part of the total construction contract, but the school board in February decided to separate it from the building portion to save time on the expected 13-month construction timeline.

The district is under pressure to stick to its now 12-month schedule because there is no real desirable contingency plan for housing Eliot students should construction fall behind.

Concern already was growing this spring at Ascencion Solorsano Middle School, where Eliot’s students are staying during the re-build. Sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders are being phased into the year-old Solorsano one year at a time to keep enough room free for Eliot. Next year, when both sixth- and seventh-graders split the 7121 Grenache Way campus with Eliot students, space is already expected to be tight.

The groundbreaking on Monday leaves the district with 12 months to finish the $11,244,000 project.

“We will be done at the end of next July, so that would give us a good 30 days prior to school starting,” Diaz said.

School officials say the timeline can be met, although it leaves little breathing room.

“It’s a pretty aggressive schedule, but we built Solorsano in 13 months, so it’s the same schedule we build Solorsano on,” said Charlie Van Meter, GUSD’s director of facilities, planning and construction.

“The key for us to meet that schedule is getting the foundations set and the exterior walls up before it starts to rain,” Corlett said. “So if we get that done, we’ll be in good shape.”