Gastineau Community School’s first day of school this year is Monday, but much of the school is still a construction zone.
The elementary school in Douglas is nearly two-thirds of the way through a three-year renovation project. Last year, the classroom wing of the school was renovated, and next year, the school’s aging playground is set to get a facelift.
Renovations this year have spruced up the library, remodeled the staff office area and expanded the student commons.
But as of Friday morning, construction workers were still busy, even as teachers organized their classrooms and parents registered their children for kindergarten on the opposite side of the double doors separating the two parts of the school.
“Most of the areas that are impacted by this summer’s construction will not be finished by the time school starts on Monday,” said Glenn Gelbrich, superintendent of the Juneau School District.
That Monday start date for classes just received the green light Friday afternoon, according to JSD communications manager Kristin Bartlett.
“We are disappointed with the progress, dissatisfied with the progress, and we had hoped that the project would be further along,” Gelbrich said. “But we’re going to have school, and our teachers are doing a great job of getting ready under the circumstances.”
It is virtually certain that major work will continue well into the first month of classes, Gelbrich said, though construction will not be done during school hours.
“It’s always uncertain in a construction project, but we believe … that we can have (the library and computer lab) accessible within a week to 10 days after school starts. The gym could be as much as three weeks out,” said Gelbrich. “I would say by the middle of September we hope this thing will be completely wrapped up and Gastineau will have its new school complete, with the exception of phase 3, which is associated with the playground.”
Food Services will likely not be able to move into the commons before Labor Day, according to Gelbrich.
That means Gastineau is going to be getting creative with how it serves students lunch and where they will eat.
“Lunch will be served in the foyer,” said Brenda Edwards, Gastineau’s new principal. “Food Services will provide a plan to make sure that it meets standards and it’s safe for students.”
Students will be able to eat at tables set up beneath the covered area behind the school, or in their classrooms if the weather is bad enough to warrant it, Edwards added.
The playground, which has served as a staging area for construction materials this summer, will also be cleared up and open by the time school starts, according to Edwards.
“All of the playground, as well as the covered area, will be available for students,” Edwards said.
While the main entrance of the school remains closed due to construction, Gelbrich said students will enter through the building’s north entrance, near the staff parking lot.
Construction outside the school was put on hold for more than two weeks after human remains, apparently from Native gravesites on top of which Gastineau was built in the 1950s and 1960s, were discovered buried outside the main entrance earlier this summer.
The Douglas Indian Association eventually agreed to give the go-ahead for construction to continue in mid-July. On behalf of the JSD, Gelbrich attended and spoke at a blessing ceremony in front of the school on July 17.
Gelbrich said special development of that area is under consideration.
“We’re working in partnership with the (City and Borough of Juneau) and the Douglas Indian Association to finalize plans for that,” Gelbrich said. “So there will be a bit of a plaza there, discussion about a memorial being there, and so that’s a collaborative process.”
Gelbrich said JSD maintenance staff have also been meeting regularly with staff from the CBJ, which is managing the Gastineau project, and representatives of Sitka-based ASRC McGraw Constructors, the construction company on the project, to discuss the ongoing work at Gastineau.
McGraw, which did not respond Friday to multiple requests for comment, is also working on the renovation of Auke Bay Elementary School. Work there started in June.
Unlike the Gastineau project, where work is being done over three successive summers, the Auke Bay project aims to effectively rebuild large parts of the building during the upcoming school year.
“They’re pretty much on schedule for what they need to get done,” said Gelbrich. “So we’re optimistic about that.”
The north end of Auke Bay Elementary School is under construction as phase 1 of the project. Principal Lori Hoover said it will provide classroom space starting early next year.
“After January, we move into this side, and then the construction company … will take over the other end of the school, and they’ll start the renovation on that end,” Hoover said. “And then they’ll go into the summer and they’ll finish off the rest of it in the middle. … The schedule is (that) a year from now, we’ll be in the new school.”
Work at Auke Bay will continue throughout the school year.
“They’ve done a real good job,” said Hoover of the contractors, indicating the construction zone surrounding the north end of the building. “All this is fenced-off and safe. … We don’t have access to this area, and they don’t have access to the rest of the school.”
Hoover said students and staff will learn to live with the noise and activity.
“There is a little bit of noise. And I think it’ll be one of those things that we’ll just get used to and then, you know, you won’t even notice that it’s there,” Hoover said. Once the beams are in place and crews begin interior work, she added, the site will be less noisy.
Moments later, there was a loud “clang” from the construction area.
“Yeah, some of those big noises will go away,” said Hoover, laughing.
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.