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Felix Adamo / The Californian

Members of the Bakersfield City School District board visit the construction site of both the Douglas K. Fletcher Elementary and Paul L. Cato Middle schools at 9801 Highland Knolls Drive near the old Mesa Marin race track. The new BCSD schools will open to students for the first time this fall.

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Felix Adamo / The Californian

Danny Ordiz, (third from left) architect of the new Bakersfield School District schools, Douglas K. Fletcher Elementary and Paul L. Cato Middle School, describes the layout of the new Bakersfield City School District schools to members of the district board.

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Felix Adamo / The Californian

The administration building of the new Paul L. Cato Middle School faces west near the old Mesa Marin Raceway. The Douglas K. Fletcher Elementary School is also at the same location.

The Bakersfield City School District is nearing the finish line on its newest campus, a two-school complex in the northeast that will house the Douglas K. Fletcher Elementary and Paul L. Cato Middle schools.

The campus on Highland Knolls Drive and Vineland Road is scheduled for completion by the end of the calendar year, and will open to students in 2014.

It's the first complex in the district where two schools share the same campus, albeit divided by a fence. But there are three other pairs of schools where an elementary and middle school are next door to each other; and three more areas where the elementary and middle schools are only a block apart.

The district broke ground for the 41-acre campus on March 22 of last year, and school board members and staff toured the construction site earlier this week.

Danny Ordiz, principal architect for Ordiz-Melby Architects Inc., led school officials on a walk-through of the partially built campus Wednesday, pointing out various design elements and features.

The hilltop site's sloped terrain was both a blessing and a curse, he said.

On the one hand, it made compliance with Americans With Disabilities Act standards challenging because accessible sites are level.

"Ordinarily, you'd want to do something terraced," Ordiz said.

But the upside is that school buildings are on higher elevations than the playground and athletic fields.

"It makes supervision of the play areas easy during athletics and P.E. and that sort of thing," Ordiz said.

Board members, who wore hard hats on the tour, said they were impressed.

"The view is panoramic. It's beautiful," said board member Lillian Tafoya. "And it's very spacious. There's lots of room."

She also noted that the layout of the joint campus will be convenient for parents with students in both schools.

The design attempts to segregate the students by age where appropriate, but allows for intermingling between middle and elementary school children when it's desired.

There is a shared kitchen, for instance, but cafeteria seating will be divided by a folding wall. The corner lot allows parent drop-off lanes on different streets for each school, but there's a shared bus loop off Bedford Green Drive for school buses.

A multipurpose room is available to both schools for parent meetings and professional development for teachers, and there's a common courtyard for outdoor presentations.

The campus also has some environmentally-friendly elements, such as five rooftop Solatubes for each classroom to allow in natural light.

There will be enough light from those tubes on sunny days for the school to function with only half of its available interior lights on, Ordiz said.

The elementary school portion of the site is 20 acres. There are 28 classrooms and four kindergarten rooms in 47,000 square feet.

The middle school part has 40 classrooms and two exercise rooms on 64,000 square feet.

The $60 million complex is being paid for with proceeds from Measure G, a 2006 bond measure voters approved after a demographics study predicted explosive residential growth in the northeast.

At the time, the housing bubble was still expanding, and it was assumed that area of town would grow much faster than it ultimately did. But even after the bubble burst, slow, steady growth across the city has put pressure on schools everywhere, and shifting boundaries with two new schools will provide relief throughout the district, said BCSD spokesman Steve Gabbitas.

The last time the district built a new school was 1994, when Cesar E. Chavez Science Magnet School opened. Walter W. Stiern Middle School opened in 1993.

The final boundaries for the district after the new complex opens haven't been determined, so it's not possible to say from which existing schools the new ones will draw. The elementary schools closest to the construction site are Chavez, Eissler, Thorner and Voorhies. The nearest middle schools are Chipman and Stiern.

Fletcher will have capacity for 800 elementary school students, and Cato will have capacity for 1,300 middle school students, but neither is likely to be filled to capacity at the initial fall 2014 opening, Gabbitas said.

Board member Fred Haynes said he was "pleased with the progress" of the construction and looking forward to 2014.

"We're very excited for it to open," he said.