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A $1.46 million grant for seismic upgrades helps to complete overhaul of elementary building

ST. PAUL — With students set to return next week, the race to finish renovations at St. Paul Elementary School continues.

General contractor Andy Metcalf Construction has completed the majority of the work to upgrade the 25,504-square-foot building, including seismic retrofits paid for with $1.46 million from the Oregon Seismic Rehabilitation Program, but is pushing hard to put on the finishing touches so that classrooms in particular will be ready for the first day of school Sept. 5.SETH GORDON - Tim Tinkham of subcontractor Caslin Inc. installs ceiling tiles in the main hallway of St. Paul Elementary School last week. Construction crews are pushing to complete the $2.9 million renovation before classes begin Sept. 5. 

"I'm excited for the new year, excited for the new building," fifth-grade teacher Dorinda Hempel said. "It's almost like a fresh start."

Teachers returned to the building, originally built in 1961, last week to begin preparations for the new school year, but had to so in classrooms that were both crowded with piles of furniture and supplies and hectic as new cabinets and exterior doors were being installed.

With new carpeting, windows, lighting and, perhaps most importantly, HVAC systems in each classroom, it was obvious to Hempel that the renovations will substantially improve the learning environment for students, which is exactly what Superintendent Joe Wehrli said the design was intended to do.

"When the kids come in and see a nice new building, they treat it differently," Hempel said. "They take a lot more pride and I think that's going to be really beneficial for our students. They're going to feel very privileged to have this all updated."

And while the school still resembled a construction site last week as subcontractors worked to finish installing the hallway ceiling, upgrades there and to other interior areas were already evident both visually and more intuitively, including that the building now has insulation for the first time.

"We were sitting in the entrance with all the teachers … and we were talking about how it was much cooler than it has ever been," Wehrli said. "So the shoulder months were really hard on both students and staff. I think it will be a completely different working environment and learning environment for the kids."

Because Metcalf installed 8-inch steel reinforcement beams inside nearly all of the interior walls — by building them with hollow cinder blocks and filling them with concrete after inserting the beams — most of the seismic upgrades are not visible inside and usually only show up as small steel plates on the exterior.

"It is amazing that with so much reinforcement work they were able to hide it," Wehrli said.

The main exception is the gym, both in that it features four exposed beams at the rear of the stage and now looks different after the old steel roof has been replaced with more stable cross beams and given a more squared-off look.

And while students will enjoy completely renovated bathrooms adorned with white subway tile and the same colorful floor that was installed in the high school locker rooms last year, staff will also have access to new work spaces.

That was made possible in part by the removal of antiquated locker rooms near the main office, which has been expanded to include a conference room and two more offices for the ELL and special education programs.

Wehrli said that in order to complete work in the school's nine classrooms, the final touches of the office renovations will be completed last, with work installing furniture and cabinets possibly carrying over into the beginning of the school year.

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