Building for the future

Construction continues near the 400 building of classrooms at Castaic High School on Friday. Dan Watson/The Signal
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Student learning and achievement is top priority for school districts, but before any of that can begin school officials have to create the space to make it happen.  

In the Santa Clarita Valley, each elementary school district has a number of school sites. Some are older, others are newer, and each one must meet state standards in order to be used by students and staff.  

“I can speak for the Newhall School District; we are focused on students, student safety and student experience. That’s our priority,” said Sheri Staszewski, assistant superintendent of business services for the Newhall district. “We’re here to educate students and while they are here, we’re going to keep them safe in a safe environment.” 

“We are going to make sure that we are putting dollars toward those purposes.” 

District officials from Castaic Union School District, Saugus Union School District and Sulphur Springs Union School District shared Staszewski’s sentiments. Though each district is unique, they implement similar procedures to develop projects. 

For example, the Saugus district follows a nine-phase procedure when it comes to its school construction projects. District officials begin with a project development/programming phase then continue with the following schematic design, design development, construction documents, funding state eligibility, agency approval, contractor prequalification/bidding phase, construction administration and, the final step, closeout. 

Each school district follows similar procedures to ensure compliance with state and federal regulations.  

In addition, any proposed project must be approved by the Division of the State Architect, which provides design and construction oversight for K-12 schools, community colleges and other state-owned and leased facilities.  

Construction projects must also meet the California Environmental Quality Act. The act requires state and local agencies identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and avoid or mitigate those impacts. 

Fred Palmer, director of facilities for the Newhall district, said they are bound by CEQA not just when planning or designing, but even in considering the materials used to construct buildings.  

Palmer said his district is in the middle of updating HVAC units to newer equipment that would utilize less energy. 

Nick Heinlein, assistant superintendent of business services for the Saugus district, also noted a list of equipment or practices his district is currently or seeking to implement in their facilities.  

Some things the Saugus district has done include solar parking shelters, solar lunch shelters, rooftop solar for the district office and Plum Canyon Elementary School, HCAC and outdoor lights, Cal Sense irrigation controllers, drought-tolerant landscaping in partnership with the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency, and more. 

District officials when describing previous construction projects indicated they utilize and stay in compliance with state and federal regulations. Often, and especially in California, these regulations are environmentally friendly.  

Palmer also noted that facilities staff try to stay up to date with any new legislation the state comes up with to ensure everything is up to code, and any future projects stay in compliance.  

“We’re focused around providing a safe environment for our students,” Staszewski said. 

In the Newhall district, with its latest endeavor, the goal is to provide proper healing and cooling systems, according to Staszewski. It’s also to ensure the district has good air quality, and they were able to use federal funding to support this project.  

Irene Boden, assistant superintendent of business and administrative services, said the Castaic district does not have recent projects that were completed. But she noted when they do consider new projects, discussing possible environmental impacts are part of those conversations. 

These school facilities serve the purpose of education children in safe facilities, but they also have to be built to last years and, in doing so, these projects must take into consideration the potential impacts they may pose to the environment, according to district officials.  

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