Tracing Tracy: THS demolition paves way for new buildings

A demolition firm’s backhoe digs into the Tracy High cafeteria building, first put into use in 1956. Sam Matthews/Tracy Press

The last time I watched the backhoes dig into a venerable building on the Tracy High campus was nearly three years ago — in September 2006. Following a brief program, demolition of the 1917-era West Building was started on that early fall morning.

Friday morning, I was back on the Tracy High campus again. This time there was no ceremony, but the backhoes were at it again, this time digging into the school cafeteria, which first went into use in 1956.

Work to take down many of the buildings constructed in the 1950s actually started Monday, and by Friday morning, three classroom wings were completely gone, and the social science building was nearly so.

I wanted to go out to the campus to gain a feel for what was occurring, which, even more than the demolition of the West Building, will transform the high school campus that generations of Tracy High students have known.

Bonnie Carter, who succeeded the legendary Denise Wakefield as facilities planner for the Tracy Unified School District, escorted me into the demolition area, and we met with Tom Crites of RGM Associates, the construction manager, and Chuck Walker, the TUSD inspector for the project.

As we stood there, a crew from Sterling Holloway — demolition specialists from Auburn — was attacking the cafeteria building that for more than a half-century hosted not only millions of school lunches but also countless crab feeds, spaghetti dinners and community meetings.

After the cafeteria is gone, the backhoes will move a bit west and take down the Joe Foster Music Building, originally built in 1941 and remodeled and enlarged in 1975. It’s a good thing that, Joe, the longtime Tracy High band director, is up in Carson City and not here to see his namesake building turned to dust.

The library and administration wing will be next, and then the mass of concrete — most of the buildings were constructed on slabs — will be carved up and hauled away. Crites said digging up utility lines will complete the demolition work, estimated to take three to four weeks, total.

Two classroom wings will remain in use until replacement buildings are completed in 2011, and then will be demolished.

After the center of the campus is cleared, ground-preparation work will begin for the start of construction of two new buildings to replace those being demolished. The new construction is scheduled to begin in mid-September and be completed early in 2011, Crites said. The new buildings are as follows:

• A single-story structure housing the cafeteria, FEAST (vocational food-preparation) laboratory and music classroom.

• A two-story building containing the library and 18 classrooms.

The general contractor, Roebbelen Construction of El Dorado Hills, will use tilt-up concrete walls and steel framing similar to that used in the two-story classroom building that replaced the old West Building. The same firm constructed the new classroom building, which was completed last year.

Carter said the design of the two new buildings will have some of the same Mediterranean features of the West Building’s replacement, but not as elaborate as the replication of the original building’s mission-revival façade.

Also part of the project is an effort to clean asbestos and lead paint from the industrial arts and auto shop buildings and upgrading them to be computer-ready.

Carter said full use of the new classroom building and existing portables, along with the opening of John C. Kimball High School this fall, will provide classroom space for students as construction continues on the campus.

Originally, the buildings now being torn down at Tracy High were to be refurbished and brought up to date. But lower construction costs associated with the economic downturn made replacement of the buildings less expensive and a better investment for the long term.

The entire project is estimated to cost $26,850,000. Funds from the $51 million in Measure E bond approved by voters in 2006 have been augmented by state bond money.

After the Tracy High project is completed, construction of a theater on the West High campus will wind down the Measure E. projects, Carter said.

Then the focus will be on upgrading five older elementary schools with funds from the $43.1-million Measure S bond approved by voters in 2008.

A fourth-rounder

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that Darrell Ceciliani, an emerging baseball talent from Madras, Ore., with strong Tracy ties, was considered a top prospect in the major league draft.

Those predictions by people who know baseball proved to be correct. Earlier this week, he was drafted in the fourth round of Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft by the New York Mets.

As his grandmother, Gladys Ceciliani, said recently, whether Darrell signs with the Mets to play in the team’s farm system depends on negotiations with the Mets over a signing bonus and other considerations.

If he decides not to sign a contract, he could return for another season at Columbia Basin College in Pasco, Wash. But as a fourth-round choice, chances of the 6-1, 185-pound southpaw outfielder signing with the Mets with a six-figure bonus are very solid.

Darrell isn’t the only player with Tracy ties to be selected in this week’s baseball draft. Three St. Mary’s High graduates — Kyle Jensen, Ty Kelly and Kevin Childs, all of whom played their first baseball as youths in Tracy — were drafted in the later rounds of the 50-round draft.

For more, see Bob Brownne’s story in today’s Sports Section.

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by e-mail at shm@tracypress.com.

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