Rocks. Dirt. Lots of dirt. Construction at its best!As the 2008-09 school year gets under way this week, Richland Elementary School students and staff will get a taste of what the school year will bring. They will need to work around the dirt and daily cleanup that comes with construction. They will need to keep the end in mind in order to maintain their sanity!

People who have torn up their houses to remodel can empathize. At this very moment, I am crunching dirt between my teeth, remnants of the day's cleanup in my kitchen. My family and I live in a 300-year-old farmhouse. We have been renovating it ourselves, a section at a time. Current project - the kitchen. The first step - bashing down walls filled with field stone and smashing a fake fireplace built over a really cool one. I can't take credit for the smashing part. That requires strength to swing a sledge hammer. But I run a mean shop vac!

Richland Principal Leslie Staffeld said the subcontracting construction crew working on the roof, Waterproof Technologies, Inc., does a really good job of cleaning up after its daily messes.

"They are an incredibly hard working, nice team of people," she said. "Always polite. They always tell me where they will be working."

Staffeld took vacation in July, believing she would avoid the roof project. But Waterproof Technologies did not get started until August 1. The crew works Saturdays in an effort to make up some of the lost time.

"It's exciting," Staffeld said. "I was asked to come to Richland [from Tohickon Valley] three years ago to lead this project. We're finally doing it."

The project will expand the existing kitchen and add four rooms for music, fifth grade, and faculty and will make the building handicap accessible. In the meantime, staff and students will need to be flexible. Fifth graders will attend Strayer Middle School for two years. Instructional Support groups will meet in the library. Music will be conducted in a storage room and physical education and occupational therapy offices will also share the storage space.

"This space sharing is not new here," Staffeld said. "They had to share four years ago due to the large enrollment."

The district was going to undertake two building construction projects this summer. However, the School Board voted to postpone the Haycock Elementary School project after the cost grew too high, thanks to the economy and the price of delays. The board could not have predicted the state of the economy in 2006, when it hired The Architectural Studio (TAS) to conduct a feasibility study. The study considered population, enrollment projections, school capacity, curricular issues, facility conditions, cost estimates, options and priorities.

The company attempted to look into the future, but added this disclaimer: "there are a number of significant, related issues that are outside the scope of this study. In particular, staffing, phasing and transportation needs associated with new buildings or additions are not addressed here, and neither are the potential consequences of major inflation or other unforeseen societal changes. Nevertheless, this study should provide a useful context within which the district can chart a course for the coming years, and a blueprint for the inevitable adjustments that should be made periodically."

The feasibility study is currently being updated to reflect changes in the economy and inflationary factors.

The high school has the highest priority for major renovations. The goal is to work the project in phases. First, the District Offices will move to Milford Commons, which will allow high school classes to move into the vacated section of the building as needed. At the moment, administrators hope to move into Milford Commons by March. Of course, construction projects often require a change in schedule.

Richland custodians, led by head custodian Scott Hendricks, have been working to keep the construction dirt in check while managing many of their usual summer tasks. Custodian Linda Hafler said the construction does require repeat cleaning.

Custodian Dan Krier, who "floats" to whichever building needs him, said, "We'll do whatever it takes to make it safe for the kids."

Seven teachers new to the building (five new teachers and two transfers) work in the primary wing of the building. Normally teachers use the weeks before school opens to set up their classrooms. These new teachers could not get into their classrooms until a few days before Richland's open house because of the roofing demolition.

"They were under a little more pressure but at least their rooms won't leak when it rains," Staffeld said.

Dealing with the inconveniences will require tolerance and humor. Staffeld purchased tool belts - tool belts for success, she said - to hand out to her teachers. Her husband, Peter, had already given her three hard hats, in yellow, pink and white, to match her outfits. She amused construction workers one day by wearing the pink hard hat with a pink dress, pink bag and flip flops.

"You've got to have fun," she said. "It's a matter of attitude. We've all wanted this improvement to our building. We will handle it gracefully."

And, staff, students and parents will need to keep the end in mind. In two years, Buddy the Bluebird (the school mascot) will adorn the lobby, with his outstretched feet and wings showing those who enter how to find each color-coded wing of the building. The colors also line up with the word PROUD (for Richland PROUD) - purple, orange, ultramarine blue and dark green.

Dr. Staffeld and the Richland School community look forward to teaching in a refurbished building in two years. About that time, I hope I will be cooking and eating in a finished kitchen. Knowing my husband's sense of time, I'm not holding my breath!

Ricki Stein is the community relations coordinator with QCSD. Send comments to tfp@berksmontnews.com. "From the Inside Out" is a column dedicated to the views of the Quakertown Community School District

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