Lake Mountain Middle School will remain studentless for a few weeks longer.
The building will not be ready to see students when the first day of school rolls around on Tuesday. Instead, students will use a blended education model that utilizes both technology and face-to-face meetings before occupying a partially-open school Sept. 10.
“It’s not a perfect solution, but of all the solutions we had, it’s the best solution,” said Mark Whitaker, the school’s principal.
The 200,000-square-foot Saratoga Springs school has seen delays since its beginning. The project was bid in January 2018 with the intention it would start a month later, but due to coordination between different entities and other projects in the area, was delayed four months, according to John Cox, a vice president for Hogan & Associates Construction and the project manager for the school’s construction. Additionally, a wet winter when crews were doing structural work and an extremely wet spring meant time couldn’t be made up.
Cox said it’s the first opening day one of his projects has missed.
“We hoped to make up that time or get close to it,” he said.
Cox said expediting the project would have cost millions of additional dollars.
Despite the delays, Cox said the amount of work the team has accomplished in a short time is incredible.
“Without such a strong group of supervision, staff and subcontractors, the progress we have made wouldn’t have been possible,” he said.
Parents were alerted last week about the blended model after the district realized that the school would not be ready to see students.
“I was still willing to open it, but it became a point where just because we can, doesn’t mean we should,” Whitaker said.
The entire school remained an active construction site on Wednesday, with workers installing cabinets, furniture stacked up in the gymnasium and classrooms at varying degrees of completion.
In at least one bathroom, partitions, mirrors, ceiling tiles and lighting had yet to be installed. Even with missing ceiling tiles, Whitaker said classrooms could be able to see students.
“That’s functional,” he said.
The building is decorated with accents of the schools colors, which include orange and a shade of paint Whitaker points out is ironically called “downpour blue.”
Delaying when students will enter the building allows for the kitchen to be completed, some classrooms to be done and lockers to hopefully be installed in the next few weeks. Some classrooms — like those for career and technical education, the arts and athletics — are expected to be completed in October. The auditorium is expected to be the last part of the school to be completed in December, which has caused the planned fall play to be canceled.
Up until last week, the plan was to open about half of the school to students on Aug. 20 and have the parts under construction closed off to students. The Alpine School District began looking at options in the spring for how to work with a partially-complete building and produced a list of 13 different alternatives as a contingency plan.
Whitaker said different factors were looked at when making a decision, including an emphasis on student safety, how instruction would be provided and the ability to keep school within the traditional school year and calendar.
The blended learning model will utilize 15 portable classrooms at the nearby Vista Heights Middle School that will be used as optional, open labs for students to get in-person instruction. Whitaker also plans to do some home visits and has sent out an email to parents answering 18 different questions about the unconventional model.
About 500 of the school’s expected 1,300 students can be housed in Vista Heights Middle School’s portables at a time. Students will rotate through the optional lab, and both transportation, loaner laptops and meals will be available from the district.
Teachers will be allowed in the building Sept. 9, one day before the students return.
Cox said once students return, the project will be treated as an occupied remodel, which means that parts of the school under construction will be blocked off and that construction employees will go in through separate entrances. He said most subcontractors have already undergone background checks and that Hogan & Associates Construction have strict policies banning contact between employees and students.
“Any inappropriate action requires immediate dismissal,” Cox said.
Whitaker said the delays have helped to bond the school’s faculty and staff. He eagerly awaits the day when students can enter the school.
“It’s going to be a fantastic building,” Whitaker said.