‘Murray Middle School will be ready’

Superintendent Bell gives tour and update of new campus; will do same for BHS next week

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

‘Murray Middle School will be ready’“We are expecting 650 kids the first day of school, and Murray Middle School will be ready to receive them,” said Ernie Bell, superintendent of the Sierra Sands Unified School District.

“This is a really unique milestone for our community, and we hope everyone will join us in celebrating,” said Bell. The former Murray campus is more than 70 years old and saw four generations of residents pass through its gates. “To have a brand-new school for this next generation is exciting for all of us.”

The project has been in the works since Murray and Burroughs High School made a priority list of military-impacted schools that needed renovating. The district was granted 80-percent funding for reconstruction and improvements topping $70 million for the two schools. The district has been working with state and federal officials to come up with the required 20-percent match.

Murray School will have nearly 68,000 square feet of space in modularly and traditionally constructed structures. New amenities will include a new gymnasium — something the school never had before — as well as state-of-the-art classroom instruction space, athletic facilities and common areas.

Although the school will be open and functional by the beginning of the school year, Bell said the gym and locker rooms will not be completed until November and September, respectively.

“As with any project, there have been obstacles, but overall this has been an incredible experience,” said Bell, who gave the News Review staff a tour of the progress on campus on Wednesday morning.

He was particularly excited that the district’s decision to go with a modular classroom design reduced costs without compromising on functionality. “We toured many schools that had been done by Mark Meehleis, who won the bid, and the quality construction and precision design are just amazing.”

The center of the campus will be cement (which was still be poured on the tour) populated with seating and shade structures. The campus will also include xeriscaping in the final phases.

“The arrangements have all been carefully thought out by Principal Kirsti Smith and her staff,” said Bell. “Whenever it was possible, we solicited input from the staff about the location, the needs and even some of the interior design of the classrooms.”

“The general sentiment is very positive,” said Smith. “The kids are excited to be ‘the first,’ the staff is excited to have modern technology — like more than two outlets per classroom!”

With less than two weeks left, work crews have been coming in evenings and weekends. “I am just blown away by the commitment of this team,” said Bell. “I literally see these guys running to complete tasks.”

“I have to say, the construction teams have been outstanding,” agreed Smith. “They care about the kids. Their conversations always include what is best for the kids. That’s been very uplifting!”

To thank crewmembers for their dedication, district staff paid for and cooked up lunch for the crew.

All the furniture, equipment and materials that were packed up last spring are now onsite, and starting next week the faculty will be rushing to get their classrooms in order. “We are planning on having some of our student athletes don their jerseys and help us move in,” said Bell.

“And I just have to thank the staff for their patience and professionalism throughout this entire project. This is an exciting move, but we have never had a transition on this scale before.”

“Educators never stop thinking about their passion — teaching,” said Smith. “When late July rolls around and they are planning, cutting, copying, dreaming about school — this year Murray teachers have to curb their extravagant dreams and be practical!”

Bell said that parents have also been understanding about the process. “I know that there are some concerns from folks in town who drive by and can’t see what’s happening.”

But things are on track, he said. “And in everything we have made safety our highest priority.”

Some of the improvements parents may notice are a more spacious carpool zone for student dropoff and pickup. District officials said that they evaluated demographics for students who might walk or ride bikes to school now that the campus is closer to the main residential population, “But that’s one of those things we won’t know for sure until the first day.”

Transportation arrangements have been made for DOD civilian and military families who need their children dropped off at Castle X on base, now that it’s out of walking distance.

“We have tried to anticipate everything, but if people in the community have questions, concerns or thoughts about the project I want them to reach out to me,” said Bell. “One of my main goals this year is to work with our parents and partners to improve communication. This is a really great thing for our community, and we want everyone to be able to know what’s happening.”

Bell can be reached at ebell@ssusd.org or 760-499-1600.

“The community has been awesome,” said Smith.

“We need to remember that we are all new to this campuse so we don’t know where things are just like the kids don’t. We will be understanding and helpful so the first days are not traumatic for the students.”

But given the “extreme crunch time” for the Murray family, Smith asked visitors to give the staff until after Aug. 17 before dropping by the campus.

“Let us get the first week accomplished so that the students feel comfortable. Then we can host visitors!”

Watch next week’s edition of the News Review for a progress report on the Burroughs construction.

Progress can also be monitored on the district’s website at ssusd.org, under “Construction.”

Pictured: Construction crews work overtime to complete Murray Middle School’s campus in time for the Aug. 15 start of the new school year. -- Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2017-08-04