Next January, construction is scheduled to begin on the rebuilding of the North School campus.
It’s a big project, consisting of constructing a new two-story classroom building, tearing down or upgrading original buildings, and restoring others. Projected cost: $37.249 million.
But it’s more than the construction itself. It’s a milestone — the final project in the nearly two-decade process of bringing all existing Tracy school campuses up to modern-day standards.
North School’s rebuilding, estimated to take 18 months to complete, follows upgrades already completed on two high schools, four elementary schools and the Tracy Learning Center in the Tracy Unified School District.
None of those projects would have been possible without the support of Tracy residents who approved three major bond issues to provide local funding needed to match state and federal school construction grants.
While new schools were being built with developer fees, initially with Mello-Roos, to accommodate Tracy’s enrollment growth, the district administration and board realized they couldn’t allow existing schools to continue to deteriorate, said Casey Goodall, assistant superintendent for business services.
“The administration, then headed by Jim Franco, and the school board decided something had to be done.” he said.
The program started with the Tracy High campus. Passage of a $51 million Measure E in 2006 enabled Tracy High to be rebuilt and West High to be completed.
In 2008, the $43 million Measure S provided local financing to complete projects at Monte Vista Middle School and South/West Park and McKinley elementary schools, along with infrastructure and technology upgrades in a number of other elementary schools.
Finally, Measure B was approved in 2014 for $82 million to upgrade and expand the Tracy Learning Center, build a new Central School, complete infrastructure upgrades —and, finally, launch the upcoming North School project.
For each of the projects receiving local bond funding, an independent citizens oversight committee reviews performance and financial audits, inspects construction projects and expenditures, recommends cost-saving measures to the school board, and issues an annual report.
The plans for North School have been approved by the state education department — a major hurdle — and the bidding process is scheduled to begin in the fall, reported Goodall.
“The school’s staff has been informed that moving the students to new locations will occur during the winter break in order to allow construction to begin soon after the start of the new year,” he said.
Looking back at the program to upgrade existing school campuses, Goodall said the district has been fortunate in having astute leadership in its facilities planners, starting with Sherry Gongaware and continuing with Denise Wakefield and Bonny Carter.
The planners teamed with Anthony Continente of Concord-based RGM Construction Management. He represented the district as project manager for nearly all of the campus improvement work.
Carter and Continente, the most recent two-person team in the process, have both recently retired after delaying their retirement dates until the new Central School could be completed.
Carter began working for the Tracy Unified School District in 1997, first as a part-time and later a full-time accounts-payable clerk. Later she became an assistant to Wakefield, whom she succeeded as chief planner when Wakefield retired.
Carter’s experience in finance was an asset in her work in planning and financing school construction, since each project has to fit into the funds budgeted for it, Goodall said.
Carter said: “Everyone who has worked with me going through the planning process knows my mantra, ‘We will give you everything we can — within budget.’”
If plans had to be changed, there was always Plan B, she added.
“Everything I know about construction I learned from Anthony,” she said turning to Continente.
He responded with a smile, “She told me what to do, and I did it.”
While Carter’s expertise was in finance and planning, Continente’s was in correctly implementing the plans without delays and avoiding disputes that could have led to costly, time-consuming legal action. There was none.
Continente, who originally was employed in manufacturing, said he entered the world of school construction in 1992, working with Denise Wakefield in Antioch.
“We were involved in building 10 new schools in Antioch over 16 years,” he said.
When Wakefield moved to Tracy Unified, he followed her, working 15 years with Tracy schools, with several years away acting as a contractor in enlarging Jefferson School.
In retirement, Carter continues to live in Tracy, and Continente has moved from Brentwood to San Diego.
Both agreed that Tracy Unified has gotten its money’s worth in school construction, using standard-sized classrooms and avoiding costly decorative frills while still producing what they called “well-built, attractive schools.”