Final days for ‘open’ Bristol, Washington

       Bristol and Washington elementary schools were packing up this week.
       Both District 11 Westside schools, which have been putting in extended days since last October to build up the necessary academic hours, will end their school years Friday, May 4, to let contractors get an early start on major interior reconstruction projects.
       Cardboard boxes filled with school supplies were stacked high at both schools, including classrooms where teachers were still giving lessons this week to students.
       “We're hanging on till the bitter end,” joked Washington Principal Terry Martinez.
       Ferguson lightened the stress by letting his students paint on the walls that will be torn out. At Washington, the students were making up stories about “Mary Ann” - the nickname for the ancient boiler that will be removed.
       Both schools are looking forward to the renovations that they're scheduled to see in August, when classes start again.
       The Washington project is budgeted at about $1.67 million, Bristol's at $930,000. Both are complex, with new interior layouts and extensive upgrades or outright replacements of electrical, plumbing and heating/cooling systems.
       It's not quite true that as the students file out one door May 4, the contractors will be bolting in the other. But the tight schedule does call for a moving company to clear the boxes out of Washington starting Saturday, May 5, then head for Bristol on Tuesday, explained K.C. Keen, the District 11 manager for the two projects.
       Both upgrades have two major aspects in common: Both will replace 1970s “open classroom” designs with hard walls that meet modern fire codes; and both will provide air-conditioning.
       The projects are similar financially as well. Funded by the 2005 bond issue, their budgets have been hit by industry-wide construction cost hikes since then. Keen said it was a challenge being “thrifty” enough to make the numbers work, but was eventually able to get both in just under their previously estimated amounts.
       The school will get difference types of air-conditioning. Washington's climate control will be created through a new geo-exchange system in which water will loop through pipes deep under the playground - drilling for their holes started in March - while Bristol will get an A/C add-on to a modern system that was installed in a bond issue several years ago.
       Comfort aside, Keen said the hard walls at the two schools will accomplish two key goals: improved student safety and academic achievement. Another benefit will be fewer sound distractions, Keen noted. Using temporary partitions as the next best thing, both schools long since gave up on the 1970s open-classroom idea, which was intended to make education more flexible and less confined.
       (Note: The older, western half of Washington was built with hard walls, and will not be altered by the project.)
       The projects will allow welcome efficiencies, such as locating the two kindergarten classes next to each other at Bristol or installing sinks in several classrooms at Washington. And, despite the tight budgets, money was found for “extras,” such as a new gym floor at Bristol (technically not part of the bond issue) and, at Washington, a new classroom in part of Mary Ann's old space and a drainage swale to eliminate the “Lake Washington” that rainstorms have traditionally created on the playground, Keen said.
       As May 4 neared, Joan Grant, head of the Bristol library, waxed philosophical about the craziness of the packing and the boxing effort in particular. Color codes are being shared by overlapping school areas, which could make unpacking an adventure. “It will be a bit of a hassle,” she said. “But I'm not going to worry about it . I'll just bring a lot of aspirin in August.” Then she added happily, “And we'll have air-conditioning then.”

Westside Pioneer article