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FORT LUPTON — With sixth-graders scheduled to be in the next morning for orientation, teachers and administrators clamored to get their rooms and offices in order Aug. 7 at the Fort Lupton Middle School, while various contractors weaved in and out of the foot traffic as they faced a race of their own.
Sixth-grade orientation aside, school started Tuesday in Weld Re-8, despite the fact that just days earlier administrators, teachers, maintenance crews and contractors were busy trying to tie up the loose ends created by a series of deep renovations and repairs throughout the district.
“It’s definitely coming down to the wire,” said soon-to-be-former superintendent Mark Payler during an Aug. 7 walk-through, adding that even though construction would overlap the beginning of school, all the buildings in the district had been certified and cleared by the state. Payler, who formally announced his resignation days later at the Aug. 11 school board meeting, added that at least one project – the completely remodeled front entry – will probably take another month or more to complete.
Payler said, while most of the construction work went into the Fort Lupton Middle School — what he referred to as the “behemoth” — each building in the district was “touched” in some way or another.
“Every building in the district was touched,” Payler said, explaining that the middle school renovations were funded mostly by BEST grant money – which has required a 50/50 match from the district – while other renovations in the district are being paid for by a bond series approved by voters in 2012. “Our mantra with the middle school was ‘leave no area untouched.’”
He said the reason is two-fold for why some projects remain unfinished as the school year starts: First of all, as he pointed out, the range of projects is broad – from completely new HVAC in all four district buildings to complex pipe repair and fire suppression pipe installation beneath the middle school.
Secondly, as national news reports confirm, contractors these days are hard to come by: National Public Radio recently sited a report that said the United States’ demands will be short millions of skilled and certified contractors by the end of the decade, and Payler said that trend is evident all the way down the line.
“Part of what we run into is just finding people with the ability to do the work,” he said. “The good news about a good economy is, people are back to work. The bad news is, there’s not enough of them.”
Still, Payler said teachers and staff were adjusting to the short-term chaos and said workers were putting in long hours that were promising to become longer – he expected some crews would be working into the coming evenings and over weekends in order to wrap up unfinished work.
“What it comes down to is, we’re ready to fly,” he said.
New and improved
It would be easier, particularly in reference to the middle school, to list all the things that weren’t done as opposed to a complete rundown of the many renovations that have been crammed into what Payler said seemed like a short summer.
Overall, renovations and repairs at some or all four district buildings (sans the administration building) include, in no particular order: a complete overhaul and replacement of each building’s HVAC, installment of updated fire suppression system and connected digital alarm system, LED lighting, carpeting, major auditorium and gymnasium overhauls at the high and middle schools, new fields with new sod (including one behind Butler Elementary near the football stadium), new playground equipment (outside Butler), cafeteria upgrades, wireless Internet improvements, new restrooms and locker rooms, an overhaul of the middle school library and, the granddaddy of them all, a complete overhaul of the middle school entry.
The latter, Payler said, will mean a vast improvement to what had been a virtually unsecured front entry previously. Payler said Aug. 7 that the foundation of the front entry of the middle school was expected to be poured within the week but would have to sit “three to four weeks” before work could be completed.
The spate of projects includes some very state-of-the-art renovations and/or repairs ranging from “angioplasty”-like pipe repair to a whole heating, ventilation and air conditioning system tied into nearly 100 geothermal wells hidden neatly beneath the field outside the middle school.
Payler said the new HVAC system will allow for individual classroom climate control – something that was lacking in the past, particularly at the middle school where he described times when there would be a 15-degree differential between two sides of the building, depending on the sun. Both the high school and middle school gyms – which got upgrades including new bleachers, windows and electronic scoreboards – will also be touch-button, climate-controlled for the first time in district history.
“These buildings used to be chilled by individual air conditioners in each window,” he said. “That won’t be the case anymore.”
Improved climate control, Payler said, also equates to more energy cost savings. Adding to those cost savings are improvements like new LED lighting and all new weatherproof windows in the middle school.
Projects such as the pipe repairs at the middle school fall squarely in the preventative category – “We’re being proactive,” Payler said – while other projects, like new flooring, are more aesthetic.
Payler said the more than half-century-old middle school waste pipes had to be addressed in addition to other planned projects when they began failing last year.
Additionally, more projects – particularly a pair of projects related to athletics – are scheduled to start in the spring: A new track and four brand new tennis courts will be laid at the Fort Lupton High School next year. Payler said contractors will begin the process of laying the tennis courts but said that project won’t be fully completed until warm weather returns in 2015.
Until then, Payler said administrators and contractors will do what they can to make the adjustment as easy as possible.
Contact Staff Writer Jeremy Johnson at 303-659-2522, ext. 217, or firstname.lastname@example.org.