Sutter Middle construction continues

By: Milan Cabebe
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Sutter Middle School is undergoing a major makeover for the first time since its doors opened in 1929.

Sutter Middle is one of the oldest schools in the Folsom Cordova Unified School District (FCUSD). Its old-fashioned front red brick building, multiple portable trailer classrooms, rickety outdoor bleachers and discolored scoreboard give away its age. And that is only from the outside.

If it weren’t for this renovation, Sutter Middle may not be able to handle any more growth. According to Assistant Principal Kevin Garmston, each classroom currently averages about 37 students, sometimes even more. There are even a few teachers who, during their prep period, have a class that takes place in their classroom, rendering privacy out of the question.

This wasn’t always an issue, especially when the school opened nearly a century ago.

“First, it was an elementary school. And then, it evolved into a K-8; then, a high school. And for a long time, it was Folsom High School. Folsom High in the late 40s started here, I think. Yeah it’s pretty old – almost as old as I am,” Garmston said. “We doubled our population size from 800 to 1,600 in about 10 or 15 years. We have never grown in building sizes. We’ve all had the same amount of square footage with twice the amount of kids. I don’t even know how we did it actually.”

Because of overcrowding, the FCUSD board members granted Sutter Middle a revamp, using Measure G bond funds the district was given in 2014. This measure was touted as a structural upgrade, technology upgrade and grounds upgrade for all of the schools in Folsom that needed it.

FCUSD’s Communication and Community Engagement Director Daniel Thigpen said that even before Measure G passed, Folsom Cordova identified Sutter Middle as needing extensive modernization and improvements.

“Sutter Middle was officially targeted for bond proceeds when, in November 2015, the Board of Education approved a facilities master plan to help prioritize the work to be completed under Measure G,” Thigpen said.

The approximate amount of money spent from the bond used for all of Sutter Middle’s construction phases is estimated at $69 million. That is about 35 percent of the $195 million dollar amount that Measure G will generate. 

Construction is in full swing at Sutter Middle, with most of the property fenced off for Roebbelen Contracting, Inc. to work away from students, due to safety precautions. Hard hats and orange vests are a regular sight to children attending school.

With the City of Folsom expanding and new homes being built nearly every day, Sutter Middle expects to grow in the future alongside it, so they’ll need the room. Because of limited space in the previous years, there have been times when they’ve had to turn students away.

This upcoming school year shouldn’t be too much of a problem, however. The incoming sixth grade population looks somewhat smaller, giving the school the ability to accept new and transferring students throughout the school year, according to sixth grade Team Leader Donna Sorensen.

The students are excited about their school’s makeover and so are the staff and teachers. Sorensen, a long-time sixth grade English teacher, felt the school getting a little tight as the years progressed. 

“Being English, and we’re pretty much inside, I don’t think it’s affected English as much. I do know it affects P.E.,” she said. “It definitely affects science when you want to go outside and do something. There’s not really anywhere to go that doesn’t impact somebody else.”

Sorensen remembered a specific time when not having enough room became an issue for her and her students. Right outside her classroom, one day, there was a science class that was working on something on the topic of traffic, possibly measuring speed. However, she remembered it was loud and right under her window.

“[The lack of space] affects what I’m doing because there was nowhere else for them to go,” she said. “I heard them, laughing and having fun which is great, but when I’m trying to teach a lesson, it made it really difficult. I think it impacts us that way, just the noise level, when there’s nowhere else to go for the outdoor education, when there’s things you need to do outside like that for labs.”

Fortunately, that won’t be a problem during this upcoming school year. By Aug. 1, many teachers, including Sorensen, will be transferred into Sutter Middle’s first ever two-story building. Her new classroom, in particular, will be on the second level toward the edge of the school.

Unfortunately, these changes won’t help the physical education classes as their designated areas will be lost amongst the construction. 

The new administration building is being built on what used to be a P.E. field. The new sixth grade wing, where portables used to be, have been moved out to the other far field – losing two fields in total. However, their time will come just as how events worked out for classroom teachers.

“It’s a long process, and the kids have been good about moving from class to class,” Garmston said. “Their flow of movement has been safe and has been efficient, relatively speaking.”

Sorensen added that the school’s staff has been very accommodating.

“I think the one thing that has really come to light with all of this is how well the staff is accommodating about the process,” she said. “Everybody is going to be put out at some point, and I haven’t heard a lot of grumbling. We just work through what’s going to go on, people being displaced and the poor P.E. teachers having less area. We see the big picture which is nice.”

The construction project is planned for a total of four phases. Phase one, currently in affect, is construction of a new classroom pod, a two-story building, media center, new-and-improved library and a brand new administration buildings. This phase will also create a new main parking lot and drop-off/pick-up lane that can be accessed from E. Bidwell Street.

Garmston is especially excited about the new administration building. The current one is in need of an upgrade. Just before entering the main office, there is no shelter to cover your head right outside, he explained. If it’s raining, it’s still raining on you. The new one, however, will have a big covering atop the front of the main office. Garmston said he will also be glad to leave behind his office heater, which turns on randomly in the hottest of times. Phase one is planned to finish by Aug. 1. 

Phase two involves construction of a new multi-purpose building that will include three music classrooms, a brand new cafeteria and kitchen. After phase one is complete, this second phase will be a 14-month process.

Phase three will refurbish and remodel seven of the older existing buildings, as well as upgrading fire and alarm systems. The school will install a Voice Over IP system as well as upgrade the intercoms, clocks and bell systems. This phase won’t start for another year and construction is estimated to take 14 months as well.

Phase four will remove the interim buildings created in phase one, construct a covered outdoor basketball court and replace the existing track and field. This phase won’t begin until 2020 and will be about a four-month process.

“I think it’ll be good for our image,” Sorensen said. “We are so much more than just the old building, but it’s kind of nice to get the facelift.”