By Reggie Ellis
Visalia – With bulldozers and land levelers rumbling in the background, local officials celebrated the ceremonial groundbreaking of Visalia’s newest elementary school last week.
The site of Visalia Unified School District’s 27th elementary school is at the corner of Shannon Parkway and Giddings Avenue just west of the Riverway Sports Park. Superintendent Dr. Todd Oto introduced dignitaries, including his predecessor Craig Wheaton now with the Tulare County Office of Education, as well as the architects, contractors and construction management company working on the site.
“Strong schools and strong communities go hand-in-hand,” Oto said. “VUSD is committed to student success and achievement and providing quality facilities is an important component of that success.”
Architect Scott Parish, a principal with Mangini & Associates Inc., said the modern school will have 21st Century Learning classrooms where students can write on the walls and the teacher can teach from any side of the room. Outside the classroom, there will be a large courtyard area and extra planters which can be utilized as outside learning sites for small groups of students.
The schools will also be more energy efficient. An array of solar panels will provide about 85% of the energy usage of the school and every classroom will have large windows to let in more natural light and LED lighting controlled by automatic dimmers.
“The dimming systems will sense the amount of natural light coming in and dim the lights automatically,” Parish said. “This will use as much natural light as possible and save on energy usage by using LED lights that are only on when you need them.”
The school has yet to be named, something Superintendent Dr. Todd Oto quipped about.
“’New’ is not the name of the ‘new elementary school’,” Oto said referring to the sign at the groundbreaking. The school will open in the fall of 2017. The principal, once selected, will work with staff and the community to determine the new school’s name and mascot.
Oto said the new elementary school and Ridgeview Middle School opening this fall are just a first of a two or three schools to be built in the next “few years” with a new high school “on the horizon.” Oto said eventually VUSD will need an elementary school in every square mile of the city in order to create a network of walkable neighborhood schools near where students live.
“That means we are a growing community and that’s a good thing,” Oto said. “Growth means we have strengths and advantages that districts and cities whose populations are stagnant don’t have.”