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School improvement

A new pool is being built behind the football stadium at Santa Maria High School.  A 2004 bond messure fronted the money for the new pool which should be finished in May or June of 2012. //Daniel Dreifuss/Staff

Summer means vacation for students, but schools officials typically spend the hiatus preparing campuses for their seemingly quick return.  

Beyond routine classroom washes and sprucing, some area school districts took advantage of vacant campuses to plow through long-planned construction projects.

Santa Maria High School students returning Aug. 16 will see the first signs that plans for a new swimming pool are coming to fruition.

The big hole in the ground that’s visible behind the football stadium and from Stowell Road will be a finished pool in May or June of 2012, with better bathroom facilities and more locker room space than pools the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District opened at Pioneer Valley High School (2008) and Righetti High School (2010), said Diane Bennett, assistant superintendent of business.

“This facility will actually be the most comprehensive,” Bennett said, adding that four portable classrooms were moved to make room. 

A 2004 bond measure is paying for the $3.5 million pool project, as well as the renovation of Righetti’s administration building, which displaced about 40 staff members during the 2010-11 school year.

Staff who had been using the cafeteria for office space will vacate the area and allow students to use it for the first time in about 10 years, Bennett said.

“When we open in the fall, it will be the first time we actually have a cafeteria (seating area),” she said, noting that the wrestling team previously used the cafeteria for practices.   

Teachers and students alike will continue adjusting to major shifts within the Orcutt Union School District, which closed May Grisham Elementary in June because of budget woes and converted the space for Orcutt Academy High School students.

Orcutt also picked up responsibilities at Olga Reed Elementary when the district absorbed the ailing Los Alamos School District and its lone school last month.

“We had a lot of boxes and a lot of teachers,” said Superintendent Bob Bush. “The majority has been moving teachers and getting rooms ready. It’s been a very productive summer.”

The district still needs to raise toilets at the new high school site and install proper serving windows for lunch at an undetermined cost, Bush said, but officials are waiting for state approval for construction.

In the meantime, students will use a limited number of adult restrooms and be served food from carts. 

Some districts — still reeling from major state funding cuts — dipped only into shallow deferred maintenance funds this summer, which was the case for the Santa Maria-Bonita, Ballard, Guadalupe Union and Lompoc Union School Districts. 

“Although we’re in a budget crisis, we still have to maintain,” said Sheldon Smith, Lompoc’s assistant superintendent of business services.

Some school exteriors were painted, roofs repaired and other less visible changes.

Ballard School in  the Santa Ynez Valley  will install a new handicapped-accessible ramp at the rear of the historic “little red schoolhouse,” among other projects to be completed by the start of school Aug. 24.  

In southern San Luis Obispo County, Lucia Mar Unified School District maintenance funds foot the bill for new roofs at Judkins and Paulding Middle Schools.

Resurfacing a Nipomo Elementary basketball court puts the district one step closer to getting to the other four or five courts whenever the money materializes, said Kevin Baker, Lucia Mar’s executive director of facilities, maintenance and operations.

“It’s such a large area we can’t do it all at the same time,” Baker said. “We have to just knock it out a chunk at a time.”