When school started this year, there was a mysterious construction crew working just below my fifth period class, involved with something resembling an abyss. The abyss was revealed to be merely a hole, 13 and a half feet deep, and it has now been filled in. But what exactly was it for?
As it turns out, Schott Construction has been waterproofing the basement of Santa Barbara High School since September of 2008. The basement was leaking partially due to light wells—openings designed to let natural light into basement classrooms. David Hetyonk of Santa Barbara School District Facilities and Operations reported that, “A couple of years ago, mold was found in a science room.” Assistant Principal David Meister said several rooms and sometimes the hallway flooded when it rained, including, in one instance, the electrical room. Something needed to be done.
When construction began, however, a new dilemma arrived. “Structural issues with the light wells were found,” said Chris Satterthwaite, of Schott, “and construction was paused for eight months.” The light wells may have met all the regulatory standards when they were installed in the 1920’s, but they were no longer up to date, considering the “heavier modern regulations,” Satterthwaite said. Among other problems, the original structures were too small, with no footings to add support. Hetyonk explained, “With nothing holding the wall in place, soil could have pushed the wall into the building if there had been an earthquake.”
While it is true that the school is a historical landmark, which can cause complications during renovation work, the real cause for delay was simply that the plans needed to pass the many strict regulations that apply to construction in public schools.
As for the enormous hole, it was also a result of the complex light-well dilemma. Tons of concrete were dug up in order to create a clear, 50-foot construction arena.
Now the building is waterproofed and the project is almost finished, “expected to be completed during February 2010,” said Meister. The updated light wells were thoroughly examined and eventually approved by the Division of State Architects. Schott Construction is rebuilding access ramps that lead into the building, and landscaping to match the prior-to-hole designs. Unfortunately there will be another delay when the concrete must cure for 28 days, before it is re-inspected and can touch soil.
The waterproofing project was paid for with funds from Measure V, a $67 million bond passed in 2000 by taxpayers to modernize Santa Barbara secondary schools, according the Santa Barbara School District’s Road to Renovation newsletter. The district had only enough funds to maintain school grounds; in other words, modernizing them was out of the question before the bond measure. Measure V has supported, along with state matching funds and private donations, major projects such as the Marjorie Luke Theater and the Dos Pueblos Elings Aquatic Center. At Santa Barbara High, there have been pool and locker room renovations, landscape stabilization, phone and gas line replacements, classroom upgrades, a library renovation, and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility improvements and elevator installments, among other improvements.