GHS: The ‘ugly duckling’ no more

Gilroy High School will celebrate its 100th birthday next month – but it won’t look any older thanks to an upcoming “extreme school makeover.”

“Ecstatic. Excited. Elated,” said GHS Principal Marco Sanchez Friday morning over the phone, regarding the much-needed facelift scheduled to commence at GHS this summer.

Located at its present address since 1978 on the corner of 10th and Princevalle streets, the aging high school needs $33 million in repairs and renovations. Problems run the gamut, from water-logged ceiling stains; to buildings marked by peeling wood panels; to restrooms with cracked tiles, to leaks; rusting, sinkholes and other eyesores.

While the cash-strapped Gilroy Unified School District doesn’t have $33 million to throw at repair projects, students and staff were delighted when the Gilroy Board of Education unanimously approved the allocation of $8 million through Measure P – the $150 million school facilities bond Gilroyans approved in November 2008 – for modernization and upgrades at GHS. Paired with another $3.3 million in state modernization funding and state-matched funding for Career Technical Education classes, GHS will get revamped to the tune of $11.3 million.

“We thank you for finding a solution,” said Greg Varela, who coaches the GHS wrestling team, which currently practices in an “inadequate space” at South Valley Middle School.

“You guys are finding a way and I appreciate it,” Varela continued at the board meeting Thursday. “You have committed to find a solution to our problem.”

Varela was one of many who brought their GHS Mustang pride to the packed meeting Thursday. Attendees donned school-themed garb; some touting handmade signs such as “We Love Gilroy High.”

After the board voted in favor of funding a cache of capital projects that will help modernize the campus and create aesthetic appeal, the entire GHS men’s wrestling team filed past the dais and shook hands with the seven trustees.

It was a high point during the school board meeting; the past several of which have been marked by somber discussions surrounding the grim reality of a darkening state budget scenario.

“I’m very pleased to see all of the effort that’s gone into this, and the support of the parents and students here,” said trustee Jaime Rosso, whose comment was met with applause. “This is important. We’re going to make good things happen.”

The school board approved to hire PMSM Architects, which is based out of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. GUSD Superintendent Debbie Flores raved about the architect group, whose design proposal was hand-selected out of 40 submissions and approved by the school board. Notably, Flores is impressed with PMSM’s portfolio, which includes the transformation of a 70-year-old high school in Arroyo Grande.

“The same process can be undertaken here,” Flores said Thursday night.

The contract amount between the district and PMSM has not yet been determined, according to GUSD’s agenda. 

Anthony R. Palazzo, principal architect and director for K-12 Education Design at PMSM, said the firm’s goal “to develop a simple, yet dynamic design for the renovation of Gilroy High School that meets the educational needs of the District, transforms and unifies the campus aesthetically, and creates a sense of place and pride for students, teachers and the community.”

Phase I of the renovation projects at GHS will kick off this summer.

Sanchez said this will include a re-landscaping of the quad area; erecting an “amphitheater-ish terrace/pavilion” with graded steps and places to sit; redoing the gymnasium floor, restrooms and lobby; modernizing all existing bathrooms on campus; giving all the buildings and classrooms a cohesive color scheme (“which we don’t have,” Sanchez interjected); redoing the door locks; building aesthetic archways over campus entry points to create “a defined entrance;” and renovating the tennis courts – which now have a $120,000 budget thanks to an anonymous donor who matched GHS’s original tennis court budget of $60,000.

“The vision that the architect has casted for the school has gotten me really, really excited,” said Sanchez. “I’m excited to see what the next few years look like for the campus.”

Pair that with “very positive” mid-year progress reports and more than one-third of GHS students making the honor roll, Sanchez is one happy camper these days.

“Gilroy High is improving from the inside out,” he said.

Work will also begin on facilities improvements for GHS’s Career Technical Education (CTE) Biomedical Science Academy; a brand-new program that kicked off in fall 2011. Approximately $2.7 million in Measure P and state-matched funds will go toward transforming eight old classrooms into four new labs and two new classrooms for the program; a project to be undertaken by the San Jose-based firm Bill Gould Design & Architecture.

After more designs are drawn up by PMSM during the 2012-13 school year, Phase II of construction will begin in summer 2014. This entails alarm upgrades; roof repairs; classroom upgrades; theater renovations (sound and lighting); sound attenuation in the student center; and – something Sanchez and the GHS men’s wrestling team are chomping at the bit for – a brand-new, multi-use “athletics room” – different than a new gymnasium.

While Sanchez is unclear on what route GUSD will opt for, he said the district will (1) renovate the existing wrestling practice building; a “totally inadequate, tiny little place” on the GHS campus; (2) build a new structure; or (3) put together a bunch of portables – although, “we’re not thrilled with that prospect,” said Sanchez.

As the team is currently practicing at South Valley Middle School, however, “I’m open to all the ideas being presented,” Sanchez added. “A new building would be ideal, but anything will be better than what we’ve got, as long as it’s bigger and safer.”

Promising plan’s for the high school’s future comes on the heels diligent advocacy spearheaded by the GHS Parents Club, who along with students and other GUSD staff brought the campus’s needs to the forefront of Gilroy’s radar.

In January, parents, staff, students and Flores did a walk-through at GHS, combing the campus and documenting major fix-it issues. GHS Parents Club President Melissa Bermea described the campus as plagued by insufficient lighting; “awful carpets;” a broken bell system “that sounds demonic;” a “pool that looks like a swamp;” a clock tower that hasn’t worked in years; a broken marquee; uneven pavement that causes students to trip; missing ceiling tiles; walls tagged with graffiti; and a whole lot of dirt that becomes a whole lot of mud when it rains, Bermea said.

“They call it ‘Lake Gilroy,'” she noted in January, of the school’s quad area that tends to flood thanks to an insufficient drainage system. “Come on a rainy day and bring your fishing pole,” Bermea quipped.

The GHS Parents Club compiled a comprehensive PowerPoint package documenting the throng of facilities issues at GHS, which they delivered last month to Board of Education.

Now, it’s looking like GHS will soon molt its “ugly duckling” image.

“I am thrilled with the results,” said Bermea over the phone on Friday. “They were better than anticipated. I’m very happy with the planning and how (the district) expedited the process.”

Matt Corona, a GHS alumnus, parent and teacher who addressed trustees during public comment, expressed similar sentiments.

“You leave your mark on this world by the differences you leave in other people’s lives,” he said. “I want to thank you for really embracing and understanding and listening to what’s very important to some of the members in your community.”

– Gilroy High School will celebrate its 100th year of operationwith an open house beginning at 6 p.m., March 28 on campus. Theschool is located on the corner of 10th and Princevallestreets.
– Parents, alumni and students are welcome. The event willfeature student work, a showcase of talent, a picnic in the quadarea and possibly entertainment by the band and choir.

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