Panama Elementary School is getting its first significant facelift since the school opened in the shadow of World War II.
The Panama-Buena Vista Union School District expects to begin work on a $25 million modernization project in April, which will include several new buildings, a remodel of a few existing buildings, security upgrades and more. All of the buildings will be ready for use by August 2020.
The district is expected to bring a contract with Colombo Construction to the board during its March 12 meeting. If approved, the contractor can begin work on the project.
“We’re excited for the students, for the everyone at the school,” said PBVUSD board member Keith Wolaridge. “Panama Elementary is one of our flagship schools, and it’s been long overdue to come up to date. I thank the public for trusting us to do this project. I think it’s going to be a great environment for the children.”
The project is the first to be paid for through bond sales from the $90 million Measure H, which was passed last November. In addition to school modernizations and security upgrades, the measure will also fund the construction of three new schools.
Glenn Imke, assistant superintendent of business services for the district, said the modernization will be completed in a three phases. The first phase will include the construction of five new buildings for a total of 25 classrooms and is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
The second phase, which will begin early next year, will involve a retrofit of several existing buildings, including two classroom wings that house 19 classrooms.
Imke said the buildings will be stripped down and rebuilt from the ground up within the existing structures.
During construction, the district will also implement several security upgrades to the school, such as adding surveillance cameras, upgrading alarm systems and intercoms, some new fencing and more.
Imke said he didn’t want to go into much detail on the district’s security plans for safety reasons.
Students will be able to continue taking classes at the school during the course of construction for the first phase, Imke said, although they will have to be moved around campus depending on where work is being done.
Students and staff will be able to move into the new instructional buildings next year after the first phase of construction is completed, Imke said. Those buildings will be permanent modular buildings, which means they are made off-site and brought in and installed on campus.
They aren’t as mobile as the portable classrooms that the school has been relying on for years. According to district data, portables currently make up 67 percent of classroom space at the school.
Why so many portables? The school wasn’t built to handle the amount of students it has now.
Imke said when the school was opened in 1939 on Stine Road in southwest Bakersfield, that part of town was rural and was only meant to serve a few hundred K-8 students.
“We were a farm community back then,” he said. “We’re not a rural district anymore — we’re an urban district.”
As Bakersfield has grown over the years and the area around the school was developed, Imke said Panama Elementary now serves around 700 K-6 students, and had served even more before there was a recent boundary change that shifted some students to other schools.
The modernization project will be the first major upgrade to Panama Elementary since the school opened. All of its permanent buildings are all original buildings, Imke said.
To honor the legacy of the original buildings that will be replaced, Imke said the new buildings are being designed to match the 1939-era architecture.
“This is a very historic school, and we wanted to be able to keep its historic character,” he said.
When the modernization project is completed, Imke said the school will not have any portable buildings. Everything will either be new construction or existing buildings that have been remodeled.
Imke said after all the instructional spaces have been modernized and opened in August 2020, there will be a third phase that will largely consist of some upgrades to the parking lot and playground that will take place over the course of a couple months.
He expects a grand opening for the modernized campus to happen around October 2020.