$18M Oakwood schools project digging deep into aging buildings’ history

The $18 million renovation of Oakwood school buildings got an early start, and is ahead of schedule, but the structures’ ages can bring surprises, said its manager.

With buildings that still lack central air conditioning and are in some cases nearly 100 years old, renovation crews sometimes have to overcome unexpected barriers – at times akin to ones found in fortresses, said Todd Scott, the district’s operations coordinator.

“We’re coming into to an interior wall where we’ve brought electrical conduit in to upgrade the service (and) it’s nearly a three-foot thick wall,” Scott said. “And you don’t have that in new construction type buildings. The best you ever see is a 12-inch wall.

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“So when you go to coring a four-inch hole for conduit into a wall that’s three-foot thick, that is a major undertaking versus a 12-inch wall,” he added. “And it’s all the difference in the world in the size of equipment that you have, the tools that you have and the time it takes to do it.”

The project – Phase I of the school district’s master plan – is being funded by a May 2019 voter-approved bond issue. Initially set to start in June, Danis Construction crews got a jump on the work last month, Scott said.

The age of the buildings, in some cases, has alleviated some issues commonly found in more modern structures, Scott said.

“The majority of construction projects have environment issues that we deal with now, such as asbestos or lead or something like that,” he said.

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There have been occasional findings, “but most of the asbestos that we run into are (from) remodeling projects that were done in the 40s, 50s and 60s,” Scott added. “The stuff that’s a hundred years old, that stuff is clean and easy and no issues.”

Barring any more unforeseen structural roadblocks – or COVID-related setbacks – by the start of school year, the high school side of the building shared with the junior high will have an HVAC system for the first time since its 1924 construction and a new slate roof, Scott said.

Meanwhile, work at both Smith and Harman elementaries will have new boilers, updated bathrooms and repaired roofs, he said.

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“A significant amount of work is being done this summer,” Scott said. “Both the elementaries will be completed. We won’t have to work in there during the school year. We are ahead of schedule and at the present time we are within budget….It is moving right where we hope to be.”

Work to the high school/junior high this summer will also include a new electric transformer, remodeled bathrooms, ceiling replacements with new LED lighting in classrooms and corridors, and some environmental abatement, according to the school district.

Crews will continue to work at that building during the school year in “select pockets of classrooms,” before completing work prior to the 2021-22 school year, Scott said.

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