PITTSBURG -- It took a mad dash to the finish line by both contractors and teachers, but a new-look Heights Elementary School is ready to make its much-anticipated debut.

Contractors were busy painting doorways, adding wiring and computers and getting two-story school up and running in time for school to start Wednesday. Meanwhile, teachers were feverishly unpacking boxes and preparing inside their new classrooms.

"Everybody's trying to get the basics all ready. Nobody moves everything in all at once; it takes some time to settle in. But, overall everybody is really excited," Principal Laura Francis said.

First grade teacher Jade Urenda unpacks school items in her classroom at the newly built Heights Elementary School in Pittsburg, Calif., on Monday, Aug.
First grade teacher Jade Urenda unpacks school items in her classroom at the newly built Heights Elementary School in Pittsburg, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 18, 2014. The new school has been built next to the old campus. The school will open on Aug. 20 and has taken a little over a year to complete. Heights Elementary is a pre-kindergarten to fifth grade school with about 650 students. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

"As a teacher you have to be flexible and be able to roll with the punches," added fourth-grade teacher Linda Sturgis, a 20-year teacher at the school. Sturgis was busy sorting through stacks of books stacked on the students desks.

"To be able to move out of portables and back into an actual big classroom, I know I'm excited about it. I'm sure the kids will be too," she said.

It was a year ago that F&H Construction started work on the $28.4 million project to replace one of Pittsburg's oldest schools. The face-lift couldn't have come at a better time, Francis said, noting how the 60-year-old site had a pipe leak at the end of the past school year that left a third of the campus flooded.


Advertisement

Also, each classroom had a separate heating and air conditioning system, which worked erratically.

"These kids deserve this," said Yolanda Orozco, entering her fifth year as the school's kitchen manager.

Some of the features in the new school include a twice-as-large multipurpose room, lots for space for storage, new computer labs and audio and video equipment, and safer pickup and drop-off for parents.

"Parents will be a whole lot happier," Francis said.

"The students were so excited just seeing this new counter (last year)," Orozco said, indicating a new stainless-steel cart. "I can't wait to see their faces. They will light up."

Students will love the stairs, Sturgis added.

Faculty members said the new school will be a morale boost to an older Pittsburg neighborhood, which includes a lot of residents and students who are considered low-income. About 85 percent of the 630 students at Heights are eligible for free or reduced lunch programs.

The new Heights was financed with bond proceeds from Measure L, a school bond approved by voters in 2010, and state matching funds. The school's design is identical to Delaine Eastin Elementary in Union City and Burbank Elementary in Hayward, though there are some seismic changes, Deputy Superintendent Enrique Palacios said.

Using that template allowed Pittsburg to get quicker state approvals and reduce costs for potential unforeseen work complications, he said.

"Another benefit is that it may be hard to explain what a school will look like or hard to visualize, but this way everybody can see it," Palacios said.

Pittsburg will likely look at using the same idea when it rebuilds Parkside Elementary in about 18 months.

With the school year under way, the old Heights building will be torn down to make way for a new baseball and soccer field for student use.

One thing that is not going anywhere is the beloved granite bear statue that sits off Riverview Avenue and the old campus. Created by renown sculptor Benjamin "Benny" Bufano in 1961, the 8.5-ton monument will have plants put around it, Francis said.

Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.

IF YOU GO:
What: Ribbon cutting for Heights Elementary
When: 10 a.m. Saturday
Where: Heights Elementary, 40 Seeno Drive, Pittsburg