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Summer projects begin at California schools

District installing security upgrades, performing maintenance by Garrett Fuller | June 7, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
Democrat photo/Garrett Fuller — A pinto horse statue is seen July 30, 2022, outside the main entrance to California High School in California, Missouri.

Most children and teachers have left for the summer, and contractors and maintenance crews are beginning work on projects throughout California schools.

Security upgrades, new heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, and maintenance are among the long list of projects the California R-I School District intends to complete by the end of the summer. Various contractors are coordinating with the district's maintenance crew and custodians, who are busy cleaning the schools, to finish the projects before students return in August.

Security upgrades

At the top of the district's to-do list is installation of the SafeDefend system, which will place biometrically-operated safes in rooms throughout the district for use during active shooter or intruder situations. Superintendent Daniel Williams explained in previous Board of Education meetings that, when activated by a staff member, the safes will contain a variety of protective measures, first aid kits and other tools for dealing with such a situation. The system's activation will also immediately notify district personnel and law enforcement -- from the California Police Department to the Missouri Highway Patrol -- of an incident.

Assistant Superintendent Matt Abernathy said a lot of in-house work has yet to be completed before the safes can be installed. For instance, he said the district's maintenance and technology departments still need to run conduit for the system. Once the conduit and wires have been run, SafeDefend crews will then install the safes and stock them with the included defensive measures and tools for use during an incident. In August, SafeDefend crews will return to train staff on the system and the safes' contents, and program staff fingerprints into the system.

In addition to the SafeDefend system, California Elementary School is receiving another security upgrade with the construction of a secure-entry vestibule to replace the current main entrance. Most needs, such as dropping off or picking up students, will be completed in the vestibule instead of the school's main office -- minimizing access to the entire building.

"It's going to keep a lot of our visitors contained just in the secure vestibule area and not actually ever have access to our entire building, which is what we currently have," Abernathy said.

The change will shift the building's entry point to the eastern side of the school facing Owen Street, Abernathy continued, with the present main entrance used for activities or events where the entrance is manned. Inside the vestibule, a secure window will separate staff from guests -- similar to current setups at the district's middle and high school -- with interior doors electronically controlled by staff. The staff portion of the vestibule will also feature two offices for special education staff, he added.

Drinkard Construction Get It, LLC, is already working on the vestibule, Abernathy said, which the district intends to have complete and ready for staff by the end of June.

Abernathy said the district is also working with Tech Electronics, a St. Louis firm with an office in Columbia, to upgrade fire alarm panels with cellular transponders for remote monitoring. The project also includes connecting the elementary and middle school buildings together.

"Currently, they are all isolated systems," he said. "But now that the middle school and the elementary buildings are joined together with the new addition, we want to be able to tie this entire campus together as one fire panel, and so Tech Electronics is working with us on doing that."

Total Tinting, of St. Louis, also returned to reapply security window film to many windows throughout the district. The firm originally installed the bulletproof, one-way safety film in December on all ground-level windows throughout the district, but bubbling film on some windows brought crews back in February.

"Because they did a winter install, some of the window film just didn't adhere as well as it normally would in warmer weather, but that's when they had the availability to try to come get it all done," Abernathy said. "... Unfortunately because of the weather and just the way it didn't cure right, there are a handful of windows that they've had to go back now and redo."

Climate control upgrades

Teachers in the elementary school's 2004 wing will have increased control over temperatures in their classrooms when they return in August.

Abernathy said Thermal Mechanics Inc. (TMI), of St. Louis, is replacing problematic HVAC systems in the wing with new Daikin variable refrigerant volume (VRV) systems. Instead of a traditional HVAC system that has one system tied to one zone, which may cool multiple rooms, a VRV system has a single condensing unit tied to independently-controlled cassette-style air handlers installed in multiple classrooms.

He added the work will take the entire summer to complete. TMI crews started by hanging the air handlers in upper level classrooms in the wing before summer school started. They couldn't complete this work because summer school is occupying the upper level, so they moved to installing air handlers and associated refrigerant and electrical lines in the lower level. Crews will finish installation on the upper level systems after summer school wraps up by running refrigerant and electrical lines to the air handlers.

Other work

Abernathy said many other projects are also in progress around the district:

Charles Luebbert Hardwood Flooring, of Jefferson City, will refinish gymnasium floors at all three schools. Abernathy said the work will begin at the high school, where the floor will be sanded down to bare wood before crews paint new lines, apply new graphics approved at the March Board of Education meeting and apply fresh wax. Meanwhile, the crew will also apply new wax on the elementary school gymnasium floor and, eventually, the middle school gymnasium floor.

Higgins Asphalt, of Tipton, will asphalt parking lots at the elementary and middle schools, with the exception of the new lot on the northern side of the elementary school. Abernathy said the work will begin after summer school to minimize disruptions.

Summit Mechanical, of Jefferson City, replaced degraded pipes in the 1976 elementary school wing.

The district's maintenance crew is installing a drop ceiling in classrooms below the middle school gymnasium, installing conduits for the SafeDefend system, sanding down the epoxy floor in the 1976 elementary school wing restrooms and installing playground equipment on the elementary school playground.

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