July 25, 2014

North Merced’s Rivera Middle School will add primary grades by fall 2015

Portables will be moved and three new classroom wings will be built.

Foundation and utility work will be undertaken soon at Rivera Middle School in North Merced as portable classrooms are shifted to another part of the campus. It’s all part of the multimillion dollar conversion of that school to handle kindergarten through eighth-grade students.

Three new six-classroom buildings will be built at the Buena Vista Drive school for kindergarten through fourth-grade students. Once existing portables are shifted and modernized, expected in December, the current eighth-grade wing will become an administration wing for both elementary and middle school campuses.

Greg Spicer, the Merced City School District’s associate superintendent for administrative services, said plans for the Rivera modernization are at the Division of State Architect’s office in Sacramento and should be approved by the end of August.

Also part of the project will be expansion of the parking lots in front of the new administration building and library services center. These costs, more than $6 million, will finish off Measure S funds approved by voters 10 years ago.

Combining schools

The old band portable classroom, which dates back to 1985, will be demolished and removed from the site. Two local firms have submitted bids for the demolition project, which should cost under $50,000, Spicer said. A new band portable will be a little bit bigger and accommodate a practice room, stage and office for the band director.

Susan Walsh, a member of the district’s Board of Education, said she is excited to see work on the elementary school addition get under way, saying it fulfills commitments made during the 2004 Measure S general obligation bond campaign. The Fahrens Park area of North Merced has lacked an elementary school and students living there have been bused to other campuses.

“The architect has done an excellent job blending new and current structures,” Walsh said. “We’re so excited to have an elementary school in that area. This will fulfill commitments to build an elementary school in that area. I know the end result will be wonderful.”

By fall 2015, all sixth graders will move from middle school to elementary schools throughout the 17-campus district. This should eliminate the need to build a new middle school, which is considerably more expensive than an elementary school.

Walsh said educational research supports the kindergarten through sixth-grade alignment and a large percentage of parents support that move. Sixth-graders are more successful when they remain at the elementary school level, she added.

Walsh said the board made it clear they want to do their best to minimize disruptions at Rivera for students, parents and teachers.

Spicer said in 2015 Rivera will have around 600 seventh- through eighth-grade students and around 550 students in transitional kindergarten through sixth grade. The shared administration wing will have separate offices for elementary and middle school levels.

Board member Gene Stamm said they were hoping for state approvals in June to get the process started. The board has been reassured the project will be done in time for the fall 2015 opening.

Stamm said the K-6 school alignment is the only way to go. Local schools were built to handle 500 to 600 students, not the 700 to 800 student numbers now experienced at Chenoweth and Peterson elementary schools.

“More and more school districts are going to K-8 schools,” Stamm said. “Rivera is the largest school in the area. There were a lot of unhoused kids and it made sense to combine the grades.”

WLC Architects of Sacramento has been handling construction designs for the Rivera project. They were retained in the mid-2000s to design the Rivera K-8 complex before the recession limited state funding and the project was put on hold. As part of its long-range facilities master plan program, the architect’s plans were updated for the current project.

Spicer said the school district is working with the city of Merced to get water and sewer connections completed by the end of the summer.

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