CALEXICO — When Angel De Dios first started attending Calexico High School a year ago, he admittedly wasn’t all that thrilled.
Now a junior, Angel was expressing a newfound appreciation for the campus on Tuesday, Oct. 27, during a tour of the newly constructed two-story, 16-classroom building that will house the campus’ English department.
“The infrastructure does have a big impact on how students are able to participate and how they act in class,” Angel told a group of stakeholders and media representatives who gathered for the tour.
Fellow Bulldog and senior Gregory Flores also told those gathered that he couldn’t help but notice the outdated buildings on campus when he initially started attending the nearly 70-year-old school as well.
Gregory, too, told those gathered that the new building has done much to sway his opinion of the campus, and that future generations of students will likely be just as grateful.
“It’s really exciting to know my little brother will be coming here and have a way better experience than I did,” Gregory said.
The new state-of-the-art, 16-classroom building is just one of the multiple projects the Calexico Unified School District has undertaken with about $45 million in general obligation bonds generated by the 2016 voter-approved Measure V.
In 2018, about $1.9 million went toward the renovation of the Ward Field parking lot, while about $3.9 million went toward the renovation and seismic retrofitting of the high school’s culinary arts building, which was completed in June.
The Oct. 27 tour and ribbon-cutting for the 16-classroom building, which was broadcast live on the district’s YouTube page, came some 10 months after stakeholders had initially gathered to break ground on the approximately $13 million project.
“This project is a true testament of how working collaboratively with our community and our stakeholders, we can provide our students and our community with great projects and bring them to fruition,” district Superintendent Carlos Gonzales said. “It is exciting to see Calexico High School enter another phase of modernization.”
The two-story building measures about 27,400 square feet and will accommodate 540 students in the 10th, 11th and 12th grades. Each of its 16 classrooms are about 960 square feet, larger than the typical classroom, and a workspace for teachers exists between every two adjacent classrooms.
Additional amenities include furniture that can be easily arranged into group settings for student collaboration, white boards on three of each respective classroom’s four walls, built-in speaker systems and an 86-inch TV monitor in each classroom.
Aside from the typical LED lighting, the bottom floor’s classrooms have solar daylight tubes that let in natural light and which can be adjusted with a damper switch.
“It’s a proven fact that students perform better under natural lighting,” project architect Jimmy Sanders, of El Centro-based Sanders Inc., said during the tour.
Both sides of each classroom door are outfitted with a magnetic card access lock to help improve campus safety. The building’s access locks can be controlled simultaneously at the campus level, in the case of an emergency, or by individual teachers from either inside or outside. The district has long-term plans to equip all new and existing buildings with the card access locks.
Each floor of the new building is also equipped with 10 gigabytes of bandwidth to accommodate the devices that each student has been provided by the district for instruction.
“When you have that one-to-one (program) with our students, you need to make sure you have the capacity to handle that much internet connection,” Gonzales said, referring to the ratio of one electronic device to every student.
The building’s look and amenities are intended to reflect and further promote a college-like atmosphere on campus, Principal Gabrielle Williams Ballesteros said.
The building will house the campus’ entire English department, with the upper floor reserved for seniors and juniors. Already, the seniors are making plans to decorate the upper floor’s main hallway.
“It’s going to be privilege to be a senior and be up here,” Williams Ballesteros said. “I can’t wait to see students walking down these halls.”
The tour highlighted the new circular drive, gated parking lot and student walkway constructed in front of the campus’ administration building, as well. Xeriscaping and an upgraded rainwater drainage system are some of the parking lot’s new components, as are new light poles and security cameras.
For students, a raised walkway will allow them to follow the same path from Encinas Avenue to the school’s front gate. And plans call for the installation of a three-sided electronic marquee to be erected in the parking lot.
The tour concluded with a visit to the campus’ culinary arts building, where chef and program instructor Fernando Nuñez proudly awaited the tour’s participants.
About the only downside to the new 4,960-square-foot facility is that it will result in a longer waiting list for students wanting to enroll in the culinary arts program, which stood at about 650 kids in past years.
“Now that we have this facility, we’re probably going to double that number,” Nuñez said.
The benefits of the facility took Nuñez a considerable amount of time to point out, and included a walk-in refrigerator and freezer that each measured 100 square feet, a blast chiller, ice machine, rice steamer, 48-inch griddle and plenty of dry, cold and hot storage space, to name just some of the features.
A lecture area complete with its own food preparation station and TV monitors will ensure every student can observe the lesson at hand. While three separate cooking stations will serve as the students’ proving grounds before they get a shot at the state-of-the-art “hot line,” or the ovens and burners used in the prep of hot food.
The walk-in refrigerator will allow the program to accept larger donations of fresh produce from local farmers and which is used extensively by students practicing chopping.
The cold storage racks will also allow students to spend more than a single day working on a project, as was often previously the case, and which Nuñez conceded was akin to “shortchanging our students.”
“Calexico should be proud of everything we have here,” he said.
Construction of a two-story 12-classroom building at the high school campus is expected to get underway in December, also with the use of Measure V funds. Its design and appearance will mirror those of the 16-classroom building and is expected to be completed by July 30, 2021.
The planned new building will replace seven portable classrooms located just north of the front parking lot. Those portable classrooms will be relocated to the site of the district office, where construction is also currently ongoing.
About $13,000 in bond proceeds remain in the Measure V fund, said Alejandra Limon, CUSD public information officer. She said that school district officials are hopeful to rollover that money into Measure Q, should voters approve it on Nov. 3.
Measure Q seeks $47 million in general obligation bonds to fund the replacement of the aging cafeteria at Calexico High, as well as the campus’ expansion to accommodate the district’s ninth-graders.