Designing district

Chico Unified revamps high schools and junior highs, seeks further bond funding primarily for elementary schools

Julie Kistle and Kevin Bultema show off the cafeteria inside Marsh Junior High’s new student union.

Julie Kistle and Kevin Bultema show off the cafeteria inside Marsh Junior High’s new student union.

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky

Find the plan:
Find the school district’s full plan, plus breakouts by project/funding phase, at (within the “Facilities and Construction” section, under “Departments”).

The past 18 months, but particularly this summer, brought the most significant physical transformation across Chico Unified School District campuses in decades.

Assistant Superintendent Kevin Bultema says the construction and renovation under way since spring semester 2015 total $38 million. He and Julie Kistle, facilities and construction director, rattled off projects that included deferred maintenance work: carpeting, painting seven elementary schools, repairing heating and air-conditioning units, and patching asphalt and roofs. Most notable were gilding touches to the crowning achievements: large-scale improvements at all three middle schools.

CUSD also enhanced athletic fields at Pleasant Valley and Chico high schools.

This home-stretch bustling culminated years of work funded by two significant bond allocations: Measure A for $39 million, approved in 1998 to build a third high school but instead (with $11 million in additional state funding) applied to the two current campuses, plus Fair View (alternative ed) and Inspire (charter); and Measure E for $78 million, approved in 2012. Of that Measure E amount, $15 million in bonds have been sold; the rest of the $38 million spent has come from developer fees and state matching funds, and was applied as advertised to maintenance and middle schools.

“It has been amazing the things we have been able to accomplish with those dollars—really nice,” said Kistle, seated at a picnic table with Bultema on the patio of Marsh Junior High’s new multipurpose building, which serves as a student union.

If Chicoans agree, work will continue.

CUSD has another bond request on the ballot. Measure K, which will go before voters in the Nov. 8 election, totals $152 million: $130 million for district schools and $22 million for charter schools within district boundaries.

This money primarily would fund improvements on elementary campuses; CUSD’s Facilities Master Plan (or FMP) also calls for additional work on high school athletic facilities.

“If we are lucky enough to have our bond pass,” Kistle said, “we are ready to pounce on getting those [projects’ architectural plans] done.”

All told, the FMP comprises $400 million worth of what Bultema calls “identified need,” which he described as what’s required to give schools across the district equivalent facilities.

“It’s not gold-plating,” he added. “It isn’t even taking them to a higher standard that we’d love to see.”

Meanwhile, Kistle and her team have focused on the tasks at hand, which have been multiple and varied. Each middle school—starting this year the “junior high” campuses enroll sixth- through eighth-graders (rather than just seventh- and eighth-graders), to alleviate crowding at elementary schools—received significant attention.

One commonality is high-speed Internet infrastructure. The three campuses got 10G wiring plus high-capacity wireless hot spots sandwiched by classrooms.

Last week, workers were putting the finishing touches on the new drop-off point at Chico Junior High in front of the newly painted gym.

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky

“If that’s the only thing we did to improve student learning,” Kistle said, “that’s huge…. Teachers actually can utilize their technology so much better now.”

Every school in the district got safety and security upgrades, most notably for “code red” lockdowns. Fencing and security cameras also were installed where needed. The middle schools also are more accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act and have improved facilities for special education.

Here are site-specific improvements:

Chico Junior High

Most conspicuously, the campus gained a new L-shaped building across a grassy field from the gym, where a new drop-off/pick-up point was constructed.

The new building houses three science labs plus a long connecting room with additional work areas. Existing science classrooms were fully renovated.

Exterior walls and hallways received new paint; the multipurpose room and library were refreshed, too. Particular attention went to the restrooms.

“My wife attended Chico Junior 30 years ago,” Bultema said, “and we were touring the facility before I started working [at CUSD in 2013] and she said, ‘Kevin, these bathrooms look exactly like they did when I went to school here!’”

Each was fully renovated.

Marsh Junior High

The multipurpose building, with its adjacent quad, stands as the centerpiece of Marsh’s expansion, though the school also received a new science building, parking lot, paint and fencing, plus repairs to a dry-rotted walkway.

The student union combines a multipurpose room with a cafeteria, performing arts space and classroom. Inside it has a kitchen, dining room and stage; outside, restrooms and a covered eating area overlooking the grassy, amphitheater- configured quad.

The science building holds four labs—equipped, like Chico Junior’s, with computers that interface with the teacher’s large touchscreen—as well as an engineering space with a retracting door that opens to a covered patio for a more flexible working area.

Bidwell Junior High

This campus received no new buildings. Instead, its administration center got gutted and reconfigured; the multipurpose room and library remodeled; and the gym repainted, refloored and reequipped with air conditioning.

“It was a dingy, dark place,” Kistle said of the gym. “Now it’s beautiful.”

The campus also got an exterior paint job, a new drop-off point out front and a solar array.

PV and Chico High

The facilities plan calls for the comparable athletic upgrades at both high schools, Bultema said, and this summer’s work was intended to “get the ball rolling” in anticipation of Measure K. Chico and Pleasant Valley each got its track resurfaced and all-weather turf on the fields—used for football, soccer and field hockey—funded by one-time monies versus bonds.

This work is the latest in a line of projects that have reshaped both campuses. Monuments to Measure A include a classroom building where PV faces Marigold Elementary, completed in 2015, and a classroom wing on the north side of CHS, completed in 2011.