The former North Baker Elementary School, constructed in 1909 with additions built in the 1950s and again in the 1970s, will be transformed into the Baker Early Learning Center this summer.
With plans for the first day of preschool classes to begin Oct. 5 in the building at 2725 Seventh St., there is lots of work to do, said Cassie Hibbert, project manager and architect with the Wenaha Group, which has an office in Pendleton. Hibbert is overseeing the renovation along with Superintendent Mark Witty.
She participated in a Zoom video conference meeting of the Baker School Board Thursday night.
The Wenaha firm has worked with the Baker School District on long-range building plans, including a $48 million funding proposal that voters rejected in November 2018 that would have included construction of a new elementary school and transforming Brooklyn Primary School into an early learning center.
Hibbert also took part in planning for a scaled-down school remodeling project that would have been funded in part by a $7.5 million bond measure that had been scheduled to go to voters in the May 19 election.
The District withdrew the bond measure from the ballot in March after Gov. Kate Brown announced an extended spring break for schools (which has now been extended through the summer), and ordered many businesses to close for an extended period in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Witty stated at the time that the Board decided to postpone the bond measure to avoid adding to the community’s financial burden.
At Thursday’s session, Hibbert detailed how the District will spend $2.2 million to make improvements to the North Baker building.
That budget includes $1.8 million in state Student Improvement Act funding, $200,000 in grants ($100,000 already received from the Oregon Community Foundation and another $100,000 Witty said the District expects to receive from the Ford Family Foundation). Witty said grant funding could reach as high as $400,000.
The District will contribute $96,158, and another $80,000 will be provided by Preschool Promise, the Oregon Department of Education’s Early Learning Division, to purchase furniture for pre-kindergarten classrooms.
The budget includes a 9% contingency, which Hibbert said is cutting it close considering the age of the building.
An estimated $601,767 will be spent before June 30 and the other $1,494,391 will be spent in the next fiscal year, beginning July 1.
The Board will be asked to approve a resolution in May authorizing the initial expense because it is not included in this year’s budget.
The ground floor of the north end of the building, added to the 1909 structure in the 1950s, will be remodeled to include four classrooms for programs including Early Intervention, Head Start and preschool, Hibbert said.
The wing at the south end of the building, which Hibbert said was added in the 1970s, will be remodeled to include five kindergarten classrooms, which will be occupied in the fall of 2021. The kindergartners will remain in the modular classrooms at Brooklyn Primary School this fall.
Eagle Cap Innovative High School and the Culinary Arts program will continue to be housed on the upper floors of the building when classes resume. Those students will enter through doors on the west side of the building and then travel upstairs to their classrooms, Witty said.
Hibbert said the interior renovation will include abatement of asbestos tile, pipe insulation and fire escape cladding in the newer areas of the building as well as the tuffstone part of the school.
The first-floor improvements on the additions from the 1950s and 1970s will include new flooring, paint, lighting, cabinets and furniture.
A secure entry system will be placed in the front vestibule of the building. Restrooms will be remodeled to be accessible to people with handicapping conditions and the electrical system will be upgraded, Hibbert said.
Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning upgrades will not be included in the remodeling project.
“North Baker has an old boiler that will be in need of upgrade in the future,” she said.
The project does not call for new walls to be built or new square footage to be added to the old school.
“The goal is to make it look like a positive, exciting and pleasant place that kids will want to be in,” she said.
The exterior of the building also will receive new lighting and paint (with the exception of the tuffstone portion of the original building, which will not be painted), Hibbert said. New windows will be installed on the ground floor and the play area on the north side will be fenced.
The parent and bus drop-off system will be reconfigured and the existing basketball court will be converted to a parking lot. The fire escape on the south side of the building also will be resurfaced.
The abatement work has already gone out for bid and is expected to start May 11.
LKV Architects, a Boise firm that also has been involved in the District’s long-range building plans, is expected to have the scope design and documents ready by early May and will be looking for contractors to do the job.
“We’re optimistic we will meet our deadline,” Hibbert said.
Witty said multiple partners involved in early childhood education have been working closely with the District to develop the remodeling plan for the school.
“It’s critical to link our early learning partners with us so that it flows for the families and for us,” Witty said. “We’ve had multiple discussions around multiple community partners to get to this.”