Las Flores Elementary School from the outside in

Linda Saholt

News Review Correspondent

Las Flores Elementary School from the outside inThe extensive refurbishing at Las Flores Elementary School is quite a story. To start with, in the early 2000s the old, tired swamp coolers over each classroom were removed and replaced with new air-conditioning units. The work was done by Siemens Industries.

That was good news. But the problem was that the a/c units weighed four times as much as the old swamp coolers, and the buildings needed to be reinforced structurally to hold up the additional weight.

The Division of the State Architect requested that the campus be closed until the buildings were seismically retrofitted.

So Sierra Sands Unified School District closed the school three years ago, and students and teachers were placed in other schools for the duration.

Siemens came back and took all 23 a/c units off the roofs and laid them on the ground, then set about reinforcing the structural components, down to and including the doorframes. The workers tore out part of the roof, took out all plumbing and did the reconstruction according to state safety standards.

The district hired other contractors to replace most of the windows with tempered glass for earthquake safety and to install new gas and water lines, lots of new concrete, new security lighting, heavy metal security gates and much more besides.

“We had to go through the Division of the State Architect with this,” said Bruce Auld, construction management consultant.

“We couldn’t have been more pleased with the team Siemens put together and the job they did. They pledged they’d have the school ready for the first day of school and they did.”

Once workers got the buildings torn up, they found old residential-grade Romex inside the walls — a plastic-clad wiring that may have been legal to use in public schools when Las Flores was built in 1961, but is not now. Today, it represents a fire safety hazard.

“Since Measure A passed, we found this major issue we’ve now corrected that we wouldn’t have known about if we hadn’t had to come in and tear it apart,” said Auld. “It wasn’t shown as Romex on the original plans, it was shown as conduit with conductors.”

So the district dodged a potential speeding bullet on that issue. Workers installed a new schoolwide fire safety system, along with a brand-new electrical system with outlets every few feet, plus a new data system than runs along beside the outlets to provide computer data access in all classrooms and offices.

Other amenities are new lighting, new paint inside and out, even new handles on the built-in drawers and cupboards.

Inside each classroom are three white boards. The center one is a “Smart Board,” with an overhead projector installed near the ceiling, which is connected to the teacher’s computer. “All sorts of programming and graphics are now at their fingertips,” said Auld. “Every campus that we’ve modernized now has this system.”

The two boards on either side are magnetic boards.

Parents who drive their children to Las Flores School will appreciate the new drop-off zone. The old parking lot on Las Flores Avenue has been dug up, redone and widened to make a safer drop-off zone farther from the street.

“At one time, we had 12 different trades with 70 construction workers here, all working — and no conflicts,” said Auld. “We tried to use as many local contractors as we could.

“PVC Plumbing did an awesome job, working in this heat. Evergreen Construction put in a lot of new sidewalks, all with the sloped curb in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Abilities Unlimited did the new student drop-off zone, and C. Martin Company did the painting.

“Office Relocation Systems did the moving from storage back into the classrooms. Even the cardboard boxes that held books and classroom supplies will be collapsed and stored for reuse. There were more, but I can’t remember them right at the moment. We’ve put a lot of this money back into this community.”

Another big project was the addition of 10 new classrooms, two of which were replacements for the old portable classrooms where kindergarten was taught since 1961.

“The kindergarten portables that were here were first installed at James Monroe in 1957. At that point, Monroe had grades K-8. The portables were moved to Las Flores when it finally opened in 1967 — on Halloween Day,” said Auld.

“There were two kindergarten teachers then, Charlotte Ostermann and Margaret Merrow. They could tell me to the day when this school opened. They actually started teaching in the cafeteria, then moved to the Kindergarten classrooms when the buildings became available. We sure got our money’s worth out of those two portables.”

The district has applied to participate in a state funding program for obsolete portables. “We removed seven obsolete portable classrooms and replaced them with 10 brand-new portables. With this new funding source, there’s a good chance we may get reimbursed for the seven we took out,” said Auld.

Teacher Kathleen Konopak said she is thrilled to be back at Las Flores. “I can’t wait to use that new Smart Board. It just couldn’t be better — we were all anxious to get back to our home school,” she said.

“It really, really helped us have a restful summer when Bruce and our principal, Michelle Acosta, kept us all informed of the progress so we knew it would all be done in time.”

In the final few days before school opened Aug. 14, all the teachers were busily organizing, setting up and decorating their classrooms to get ready for the students. “Our superintendent, Jody Rummer, came out to check every classroom and see if we needed anything,” said Konopak. “Everyone has been just wonderful — the electricians, Siemens — they all want to be sure everything is right. Even the building inspectors are great.”

“We ran out of funding when we got to the restrooms,” said Auld. “The old restrooms are not ADA compliant, so we installed a new modular handicapped accessible portable restroom that is.”

“We owe a great deal of gratitude for the team that Siemens Industries put together. Our local contractors were awesome!” said Rummer.

Story First Published: 2012-08-14