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School construction bumps along

Six weeks ahead of new school year, district readies safety measures
by: Chase Allgood Heavy equipment is a familiar sight along B Street in front of Harvey Clarke Elementary School this summer.

Mounds of dirt are piled up along Maple Street, adjacent to the old Joseph Gale Elementary campus in Forest Grove's Old Town neighborhood, setting the stage for a brand-new building by fall of 2012.

Similarly dusty piles can be seen near Harvey Clarke Elementary, where construction workers are creating space for a new cafeteria and kitchen.

And at Forest Grove High, renovations to restrooms under the football stadium bleachers are under way, as well as the installation of new athletic fields being readied for play next spring.

Along with jobs at Echo Shaw Elementary and Neil Armstrong Middle School, the projects represent taxpayer dollars at work in the form of $65.3 million in construction bond money, approved by voters in November 2010.

With less than six weeks to go before the start of a fresh school year, backhoes and bulldozers are a familiar sight on at least five local campuses.

Some parents have expressed concerns about where children will play and how the district will ensure their safety during the post-Labor Day rush.

April Rinard Felder, whose house is a five-minute walk from Joseph Gale, said Tuesday her family can hear construction noise coming from the school site on 18th Avenue. She wondered aloud how students will be able to concentrate once classes are back in session.

'Some days there's no noise at all, and other days it's really loud,' said Felder, whose daughter, Sarah, attended Tom McCall Upper Elementary last year. 'If I can hear it, how about kids who are attending class?'

Felder is also troubled by a lack of recreational space - the existing play structure has been torn down - and potential safety risks due to the school's proximity to a city park. 'If you drive by, it's just a big, dirty mess,' she said. 'And there's no secure play place now.'

Construction at Harvey Clarke is scheduled for completion by December, but in the meantime, students will have a spot to eat lunch, said district spokeswoman Connie Potter.

'Half of the old cafeteria will be available for students to use until the new one is completed,' she wrote in a post on the district's Facebook page July 26.

District business manager Mike Schofield said administrators, principals and contractors were working together to make sure that projects with timelines stretching into 2012 wouldn't interfere with student learning or safety.

'Our building principals are back this week, and we discussed safety at our district-wide bond projects meeting [Monday],' Schofield noted.

He said the district would identify safe routes for entry to and exit from each campus, provide fencing and signage 'as necessary,' coordinate class schedules around material and equipment deliveries and work with general contractors to provide additional staff and supervision during the first week of school 'or beyond if necessary.'

Yet with major budget cuts leading to staff layoffs that are expected to produce higher than normal teacher-to-student ratios in 2011-12, parent Candi Chamberlain was on alert.

'How can one teacher be responsible for that many kids' safety with tempting, giant dirt piles and construction on the property?' she asked.

projects' status

Joseph Gale: Rebuild under way and on schedule

Forest Grove High: Athletic renovations under way; classroom addition in design phase

Harvey Clarke: New cafeteria completion set for December

Echo Shaw: Cafeteria expansion under way and on schedule

Neil Armstrong: Classroom renovations set for September completion