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Jose Chapa, construction manager with SGI, looks around at the progress as construction continues on the new Portola Middle School in El Cerrito, Calif., on Monday, Sept. 30, 2013. The new campus will feature several new buildings along with some drastically renovated structures. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

EL CERRITO -- Contractors building the new Portola Middle School campus say they are making good progress grading the site and preparing an older building for renovation after 120 days into a project scheduled to take more than two years to complete.

Workers for the contractor, Richmond-based SGI Construction Management, are preparing to lay the foundations for the 101,000-square-foot school's multipurpose room and the building that will house the gymnasium, library and administrative offices.

The new Portola is being built on the site of the former Castro Elementary School, at 7125 Donal Ave.

SGI is retaining the shell of the building that once contained classroom and administrative offices for the elementary school and renovating it to house 12 classrooms for the new middle school.

Construction continues on the new Portola Middle School in El Cerrito, Calif., on Monday, Sept. 30, 2013.  The new campus will feature several new
Construction continues on the new Portola Middle School in El Cerrito, Calif., on Monday, Sept. 30, 2013. The new campus will feature several new buildings along with some drastically renovated structures. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

The contractor has also excavated under a portion of the older building to clear space for a 3,500-square-foot community meeting room that residents requested during the planning stage of the project, said Lee Pollard of Hibser Yamauchi Architects in Oakland, the firm designing the new school.

SGI is excavating into the hillside to lower the level of the multipurpose room, on the east side of the site, as well as the gymnasium complex and a new building to house 22 classrooms, to protect the views of residents to the east.

More than 30,000 cubic yards of earth have been removed and hauled to Bay Point, where it is being used to cap a toxic waste site at a former chemical plant, Pollard said.


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"We have to dig down so the buildings won't be up too high," he said. "None of the buildings will be higher than (the former Castro classroom building)."

The roofs of the multipurpose room and the gym will be planted with vegetation that will help treat water runoff, provide insulation and create more attractive views from the east, Pollard said.

"The roofs will have a fairly low need for water," he said. "There'll be a need for occasional weeding."

A ceramic tile mural on the Castro classroom building has been covered up for protection during construction and will be retained as part of the new school.

A parking lot and outdoor basketball courts will be located where construction trailers now sit on the west edge of the site.

SRI is hurrying to complete the concrete pads for the new buildings before the rainy season begins. The contractors had to remove some of the clay soil to dry it out after a surprise rainstorm a couple of weekends ago.

The construction phase of the project is scheduled to be completed in December, 2015, with an opening scheduled for Fall 2016, said Magdy Abdalla, the West Contra Costa school district's chief engineering officer.

The district will bring in furniture and install wireless technology and security cameras between the end of building construction and the school's opening, Abdalla said.

The Portola campus is currently housed in portable classrooms below the hillside site of the original 60-year-old building at 1021 Navellier St.

The West Contra Costa district razed the old building after engineers determined it would be unsafe in a major earthquake.