There were no summer doldrums at Oak Grove School because the dust never cleared and the start of classes on Tuesday will represent a break from months of nonstop construction.
Lonny Lemon, superintendent of Oak Grove Elementary District 68, the single building K-8 district in Green Oaks, recalls exactly when the students were replaced by crews of construction workers.
"The day we were out of school," he said. "They came in that evening."
Since June 5, construction workers have outnumbered on-site school employees as a multiyear renovation has accelerated.
"It's a doozy of a project," says Lemon, who is starting his second year as superintendent.
A comprehensive program of building improvements began last year with the renovation of the seventh grade science lab and junior high cafeteria.
The scope was expanded this season, with $3.2 million in building improvements encompassing several areas.
Following the seventh grade model, the sixth and eighth grade science labs have been expanded by combining two classrooms. The new space will house portable work stations and interactive cameras at either end.
Besides new paint, the ceilings, floors, and cabinetry have been replaced in 10 classrooms and the old heating system upgraded and modified to provide air conditioning.
The junior high gym also will be air-conditioned, the first large space in the rambling building to have it. The walls have been painted, the floor refinished and adjoining restrooms and locker rooms gutted and rebuilt.
Finally, portions of the roof have been replaced or updated, and damaged sidewalks replaced.
The work is being done in stages because of its scope, and the district intends to pay as it goes. Oak Grove was built in 1954 as a six-classroom building, but with growth came additions in 1960, 1964, 1971, 1977, 1991 and 1997.
"Our goal is to be able to fund this entire renovation in five or six years, whatever it takes, and not go to bonds (borrowing money), which is unheard of," Lemon said.
But that isn't all that will be different for students when they return. The school day has been extended by 40 minutes for K-3 students, meaning all students will be dismissed at 3:20 p.m.
"It really enhances the learning capacity," said Jennifer Manski, school board president.
It also will mean a more concentrated batch of buses at a single time. Fifteen buses will be staged in the north parking lot, a major change from the past procedure and that lot will be closed to car traffic.
The longer day will allow the district to recoup some core instruction time that has been divided the past two years with additional Spanish and state-required social emotional learning curriculum.
But there will be fewer students, and falling enrollment is among the chief concerns. An estimated 800 students are expected for the 2013-14 school year compared with about a 1,000 a few years ago.
Lemon said the district has kept all programs but dropped three teachers.
A tough real estate market means sellers are unwilling to take a loss, Lemon said, resulting in fewer new students.
"I think we've seen a trend here," Lemon said. "We have a lot of empty-nesters but they don't want to sell their homes."