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5 schools in line for makeover

The Fayette County Board of Education will take an initial step toward major renovations of five Lexington schools Monday night when it considers granting a contract for extensive demolition work at Arlington Elementary School.

In addition to Arlington, Cassidy and Russell Cave elementary schools and Leestown and Bryan Station middle schools are scheduled for face-lifts. The projects, with a total projected cost of $70 million, represent one of the school system's most ambitious renovation efforts in recent years.

Work on all five schools should be under way or under contract by early May, with completion expected in stages during 2010, according to Bill Wallace, architect for the school district.

At Arlington, plans call for demolishing roughly half of the 51,923-square-foot school building, which dates to the 1930s. Work should start in early February, Wallace said.

After demolition is completed, construction crews will move in to renovate and expand the remaining structure, ultimately creating a modern new Arlington School with 65,000 square feet of space for new growth.

Arlington students are attending classes at the old Johnson Elementary School until their new building is ready.

Parents at Cassidy Elementary had lobbied the school district to also move their youngsters elsewhere during renovation, but the school district said no other suitable building was available. School officials stress, however, that they will take precautions to ensure Cassidy students are safe, such as housing youngsters in mobile classrooms while construction goes on in phases.

Cassidy PTA President Karen Bernard said last week that such plans have reassured parents and students, who are now looking forward to having a new building.

Wallace said the school district expects to get renovation bids for Cassidy late this week, and that actual work on the school should start about March 1.

"We originally hoped to have all these projects bid in the fall of 2008, but that was a little overly ambitious on our part," Wallace said.

Mary Browning, the Fayette schools' chief operating officer, says it normally takes about nine months of planning and design to get a school renovation ready for bid. Construction can take an additional 15 to 18 months.

The renovations planned over the coming months are intended to rejuvenate older buildings such as Cassidy and Arlington, remedy lingering problems and meet future needs.

"We want to leave behind facilities that are as much like modern schools as possible," Wallace said.

Plans for Arlington, for example, are intended to resolve physical layout problems that made parts of the building less accessible for students in wheelchairs. At Cassidy, the library will be expanded and shifted from the second floor to the ground floor, and more space for classrooms and administration will be added. Space at Bryan Station and Leestown middle schools will be reorganized.

"Folks at Arlington and Cassidy probably are going to see the most major additions and changes," Wallace said.

The amount of demolition work planned at Arlington essentially demanded that students be temporarily moved elsewhere, he said.

"Since we had a perfectly usable building available (Johnson Elementary), it made no sense to do that amount of demolition with people in the Arlington building," Wallace said.

Although the old Julia R. Ewan building was available for Cassidy students, district officials deemed it unsuitable to occupy.

Instead, Wallace said, renovation at Cassidy will proceed in phases. Groups of students will move into temporary trailers while their rooms are renovated, then shift back into the main building as work is completed. Several classrooms will be done at a time.

Crews worked over the summer to remove much of the asbestos in Cassidy, Wallace said. Any sections where asbestos remains will be sealed off, and the material removed at night. Air in the building will be tested each morning to make sure it is safe before students and teachers enter, he said.

"We've done this successfully in probably 19 or 20 schools in the past," he said. "We really want to make sure it's done right."

Much of the work will be done next summer, while the building is empty, noted Bernard, the Cassidy PTA president. She said the school system has kept parents informed about what is planned.

"I think they've been up-front with us," she said. "Right now, we're just glad to finally be on the agenda."