El Capitan school project on schedule

July 7, 2011 

Plenty has been going on with construction of the new El Capitan High School in Merced, but not much of it is visible yet.

The $85 million high school campus near North G Street and Farmland Avenue is due to be finished in June 2013.

Grading has been done for the underground infrastructure, such as sewer lines, storm drains and water lines, along with rough grading to create the 12-acre plateau that the 10 school buildings will sit on.

Michael Belluomini, director of facilities planning for the Merced Union High School District, said construction is on schedule and on budget. Work began in early June.

"A lot of work is important but you don't really see it," Belluomini said. "We're just at an early stage. I think it's going really well."

Travis Kirk, project manager, estimated the overall project is 8 percent to 10 percent complete and contractors are right on schedule, moving full speed ahead.

Kirk estimated that close to 100,000 yards of dirt, the equivalent of 5,000 truckloads, have been moved.

Belluomini said contractors didn't add or remove significant amounts of dirt, but had to build up the 4-foot-high plateau that the buildings will sit on and dig a 2½-acre retention basin that will be 13 feet deep.

Concrete footings or foundations for the buildings will be poured next week.

The Merced Irrigation District has provided electricity and storm drainage for the property, according to Belluomini.

The new high school will sit on 58 acres, 54 of which will be available once roads serving the property are dedicated. Belluomini hopes the grading will be done by September.

Kirk said the pouring of concrete slabs for the 10 campus buildings should begin in mid-August, and vertical construction of the buildings' steel skeletal structures should start in early September.

"It (construction) always seems super slow, but it's really not," Kirk said. "We will see things upward in early September."

Kirk worked for the contractor that built Buhach Colony High School in Atwater. He said the El Capitan school is the most expensive project he has ever worked on.

Gary Lowe of Fresno, Central Valley business development director for the contractor, Bernards Bros., said the high school is on schedule. Lowe is setting up a "meet and greet" session with contractors in August.

Lowe is chairman of the outreach committee, which meets every other week and involves the contractor, the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce, builders exchange members, the Economic Development Corp., the school district and local labor organizations.

He said he has commitments for more than 51 percent participation in the project from local tradespeople.

Kirk said Bernards Bros. has "made huge efforts" to create local jobs for the high school project.

Belluomini was involved in construction of Golden Valley High School in Merced and Buhach Colony High School in Atwater, but the El Capitan High project is the biggest one he has been involved with.

He said the district is working with the city of Merced in coordinating plans to enlarge G Street and extend Barclay and Farmland avenues.

The campus is due to open in August 2013 to about 2,000 students. It will be Merced's third high school.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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