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December 9, 2023

Brownell Middle School modernization project is nearly complete

Once students are allowed to return to the classroom, middle schoolers will be envious of those who attend Brownell Middle School.

Construction is nearly wrapped up on a three-year, $71 million renovation project that transformed the post-World War II era-constructed school into a technologically advanced campus with numerous modern touches.

“We’ve had an incredible team on this project,” said Gilroy Unified School District Superintendent Deborah Flores. “I’ve been involved in numerous construction projects, and this is one of the best.”

The design phase of the project began in early 2018, consisting of a team of staff and administrators from Brownell and GUSD, who met with Aedis Architects to come up with a preliminary design.

The team identified a number of features it wanted to incorporate into the new campus, Flores said. 

It sought a larger parking lot and drop-off area, which was something that was nearly non-existent with the old campus, as well as heightened security features, drought-resistant landscaping and larger playing fields for physical education.

Also key was not to displace students during the construction process. As a result, the first phase of construction built the new buildings on the northern end of the campus, where a field was previously located, that allowed teaching to continue uninterrupted in the old classrooms.

The Covid-19 pandemic threw an unexpected, but beneficial, wrench in the construction timeline, said Paul Nadeau, director of facilities for GUSD.

The old classrooms, built in the late 1940s, were originally scheduled to be demolished in June 2020, but when the pandemic forced students to learn at home in March 2020, the buildings were leveled over a period of less than a week in April 2020, he said, combining two phases into one.

“We got three months in the bank,” Nadeau said. “You never hear that about a project.”

Flint Builders served as the contractor for the project.

The campus is divided into two “pods” per grade. Each pod consists of a traditional classroom that can be integrated with an outdoor landscaped space, as well as a science lab. Classrooms feature desks that are reconfigurable, and teachers have the option to utilize a traditional whiteboard as well as a touch screen monitor at different areas of the room.

Each classroom at Brownell Middle School can be integrated with an landscaped area outside. Photo courtesy of Gilroy Unified School District

Brownell’s multipurpose building, which was constructed a little more than a decade ago, remains with a new kitchen attached to it. The library/media center can also be utilized for community groups.

For physical education, the school’s large field can hold multiple soccer games simultaneously, and more than 20 basketball hoops are sprinkled around the southern end of the campus.  A smaller field is currently under construction.

The administration building, meanwhile, has about four times as much space as the previous incarnation, Nadeau said, and also has multiple bathrooms, a luxury that was absent previously. Administrators also have a clear view of the main entrance to the campus, and are able to lock it down remotely once all students are inside.

As one modernization project winds down, another begins in the district.

The design phase is currently underway on South Valley Middle School, as staff is giving its input on a $90 million project to update the campus, which was built in 1958. Nadeau said construction is slated to begin in late July, with an August 2023 completion date.

Gilroy voters’ support of Measure E in 2016 and Measure P in 2008 made it possible for GUSD to update the district’s oldest campuses and embark on other projects, Flores said.

“We are so grateful to Gilroy residents for supporting the two bond measures that have allowed us to do so many projects,” she said.

The Gilroy Unified School District Board of Education will hold a meeting on March 25 at 6pm to review a revised plan for middle and high school students to return to the classroom. For information, visit bit.ly/31alsZf.

Gilroy Unified School District Superintendent Deborah Flores and Director of Facilities Paul Nadeau tour an eighth grade classroom at the rebuilt Brownell Middle School. Photo: Erik Chalhoub
Erik Chalhoub
Erik Chalhoub
Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.

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