Extreme makeover on tap for Gilroy High

The gym entryway is on the list for an improvement.

Gilroy High School will celebrate its 100th birthday next month – but it won’t look any older thanks to an upcoming “extreme school makeover” that includes a revamped practice space for the GHS wrestling team, a renovation for the campus quad area and much-needed classroom upgrades.

“Ecstatic. Excited. Elated,” said GHS Principal Marco Sanchez Friday, regarding the facelift scheduled to commence 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 leaks, 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 Thursday when the Gilroy Board of Education unanimously voted to use $8 million through Measure P – the $150 million school facilities bond locals approved in November 2008 – to modernize GHS. Paired with another $3.3 million in money from the state and state-matched funding for Career Technical Education classes, GHS will get revamped to the tune of $11.3 million.

Gilroyans who bleed Mustang blue and white are pretty happy.

Junior Jonahluis Galvez, 16, GHS’s school board representative, hopes the improvements will help mollify the sense of inequality between GHS and the recently completed $111 million Christopher High School.

“I think ever since CHS opened up, the split in classes has really affected our school,” she said. “People automatically judge our school because of our image, when the truth is that the students and staff in our school are worthy of recognition, and I wish people would see that, but they just see the exterior.”

Sophomore Paul Fox, 16, who is on the GHS boys varsity wrestling team, couldn’t agree more.

His team – which consistently features some of the top wrestlers in the state – currently bounces back and forth between an “inadequate” practicing space at South Valley Junior High and a cramped portable on the outskirts of the GHS campus. Fox said he is looking forward to the creation of a multi-use athletics room. Wrestlers will have the facility at their disposal when it’s completed sometime during the 2013-14 school year.

“I think it’s great, because it’s pretty cramped here,” said Fox.

In addition to a small mat area and weight room, the practice space at South Valley consists of concrete walls with no protective padding, “so there’s a greater chance of injury,” Fox explained.

Fox, his team and coach Greg Varela were a handful of many who brought their Mustang pride to the packed meeting Thursday.

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 boys 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.

The GUSD Facilities Subcommittee has recommended for board approval a contract with PMSM Architects, based out of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. GUSD Superintendent Debbie Flores raved about the architect group, whose design proposal made the top five out of 40 submissions. 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.

The School Board will vote on the action item to hire PMSM Architects during its next Board of Education meeting March 1. GUSD’s budget for the contract has not been specified yet. 

Anthony R. Palazzo, principal architect and director for K-12 Education Design at PMSM, said via email the firm’s goal is “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; redoing the door locks; building 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.

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

Work will also begin on facilities improvements for GHS’s Career Technical Education 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 attenuation in the student center; and – something Sanchez (a former wrestling Olympian in 1996) and the GHS boys wrestling team are chomping at the bit for – the new multi-use “athletics room” (this is 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; (2) build a new structure; or (3) put together a bunch of portables – although, “we’re not thrilled with that prospect,” said Sanchez.

Still, he’s open to all the ideas being presented. While a new building would be ideal, “anything will be better than what we’ve got, as long as it’s bigger and safer,” Sanchez added.

Promising plans for the high school’s future come on the heels of 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 … the list is lengthy.

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

“I am thrilled with the results,” said Bermea 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 Thursday, 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.”

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