Cheryl Lemke works to unpack her classroom in time for the September 4 opening at Oak Grove Elementary School. 8/27/08 Denise Baratta

Lingering construction affects school openings

Construction dust continued to fly over the weekend as construction crews and teachers scrambled to prepare classrooms to receive students at several Medford campuses.

Nine Medford schools will open late on Wednesday and Thursday, some because of summer building projects funded by a $189 million bond issue voters approved in November 2006.

Howard, Jacksonville, Oak Grove, Ruch and Wilson elementary schools begin on Thursday.

North Medford and South Medford high schools and Hedrick and McLoughlin middle schools have phased-in starts, with seventh and ninth graders beginning Tuesday to acclimate to their new schools. Grades 8, 10, 11 and 12 return to classes Wednesday.

All other Medford campuses resume classes Tuesday.

Workers scurried around the large, porous campus built in 1967 on Thursday trying to finish replacing electrical, phone, intercom and data systems, heating and air-conditioning ducts, insulation and ceiling tiles in the Humanities, Fine Arts and Home Economics buildings before students arrive Tuesday.

"The (blue)prints from 1967 were way different from what we found when we opened up the ceiling," said HVAC installer Mike Preber, of Metal Masters, on Thursday. "It turned out to be three times the work. We don't have any more time because the kids are coming. It's just turned into a mad rush."

Windows over the summer were replaced and added, along with new skylights, to bring more natural light into classrooms.

Some teachers were worried their classrooms might not be completed in time for classes, but construction project manager Nick Bush and school officials said classrooms would be habitable by the first day of school.

The city building department has inspected and released all of the buildings to be occupied, Bush said.

Some of the rooms in the Fine Arts and Humanities buildings on Thursday had already been swept of construction dust and occupied.

World studies teacher Jason Weinberg on Thursday had already moved into his classroom in the Humanities building, flooded with natural light from a new window. A few pictures, including a map of the Middle Eastern nation of Jordan, were mounted on the freshly painted wall above tidy piles of textbooks and desks set in rows on new linoleum.

"Everybody is really excited and busy and working hard," Weinberg said.

"The indoor temperature is better. It used to get really hot and cold."

Some of the last details won't be added until after school begins, including new lockers, glass in some of the classroom doors and some ceiling tiles.

"Like any project, you can be substantially complete, and you can move in but still have punch-in items to fill in," Bush said.

About 700 new replacement lockers will be installed by the end of the first school week, said Principal Ron Beick.

Painting and siding replacement will continue through the school year before and after classes, said Medford schools facilities director Mark Button.

More buildings will receive renovations next summer, including the auditorium, theater and cafeteria.

Lone Pine's 500 pupils will return to some temporary buildings and a fencing and tunnel system designed to keep them away from ongoing construction of classrooms, administrative offices, a gymnasium and cafeteria. The structures in the works will replace old buildings demolished over the summer.

Two bars of classrooms are still in place and will represent the main campus this school year.

"We are kind of leapfrogging the campus over to that side," said Medford Schools Superintendent Phil Long.

One of the three portable buildings set up on the campus is a small cafeteria dubbed the "Wild Cat Cafe." Children will eat lunch in 20-minute shifts between 10:45 a.m. and 1:15 p.m.

On the first day of school Tuesday, parent volunteers and crossing guards will be on hand to guide students and parents around the campus. Parking isn't available on site, so school officials have asked parents to drop off their children at nearby crosswalks.

The basement of the library was remodeled during the summer to host the administrative office.

Construction will continue through fall 2009.

The Oak Grove campus winds in a half U-shape around an ongoing construction site, where the old gymnasium was demolished during the summer.

By fall 2009, a new gymnasium, administrative office and commons will be built.

The construction site is cordoned off with fencing and plywood to cut down on dust and distractions.

Students on Thursday will return to renovated classrooms with new linoleum of faux granite to preserve the historical feel of the school, the oldest section of which was built in 1891. The rooms also received new whiteboards, mechanical systems, picture windows and paint.

"Light, lots of light," instructional coach Cheryl Lemke exclaimed, as she unpacked her classroom. "We are very happy. If only we had little gremlins to do the unpacking for us."

In addition to remodeled classrooms, new restrooms await students.

"Our restrooms used to be dungeons," Principal Julie Evans quipped.

In the absence of a gym, students will take physical education classes outdoors. School officials are considering busing students to the Rogue Valley YMCA or Kids Unlimited in Medford later in the school year.

The principal's office is tucked in a tiny portable building at the school's entrance.

Parking has been diverted to a gravel lot across West Main Street.

Construction is expected to last through fall 2009.

Wilson teachers and workers carted boxes back into renovated classrooms with new thermal-pane windows, new floors and ceilings, paint, whiteboards and cabinets fashioned by the school district's carpenters.

"It turned out really nice," said first-grade teacher Charity Merritt. "The cabinets give you a lot of space."

The whole campus was donned with new roofing, linoleum, heating and air-conditioning systems, new windows and upgraded electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems.

Painting will carry on through the fall.

Howard and Ruch will unveil new heating and air-conditioning systems, flooring and fresh coats of paint. Howard and Ruch also have new roofing.

Portions of Jackson and Roosevelt elementary schools were demolished this summer. Those schools will not reopen until 2010. Their pupils in the interim attend classes at Hoover Elementary School, the West Side School, Hedrick and McLoughlin.

Site work for construction of a new South Medford at the junction of Columbus and Cunningham avenues also is under way.

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Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or

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