Bernards Construction – El Capitan High

Foundation work is underway on a new high school that will meet the educational needs of the growing community of Merced, Calif. General contractor Bernards Construction of San Fernando, Calif., is pouring slabs and footings for four of the nine interconnected buildings that will make up the campus of El Capitan High School. The $94 million, 250,000-square-foot school will be Merced Union High School District's third high school in the city, which has a population of nearly 80,000 people. The city is in the agriculturally productive San Joaquin Valley and near Yosemite National Park.

The city has seen significant growth and interest from developers since the University of California opened a campus there in 2005.

The two existing high schools, Merced High School and Golden Valley High School, have enrollments of 2,650 and 2,250 students, respectively.

“Each school is designed for 2,000 students, which is our model,” Facilities Director Michael Belluomini says. “We've found that's a good size for curriculum diversity while maintaining relationships between students and teachers and giving the atmosphere of smaller schools.”

The district is housing 900 students in portable classrooms that  will move to the new school once completed. El Capitan High School will have a capacity of 2,000 students and an initial enrollment of roughly 1,000 when it opens in fall 2013 with ninth and tenth graders. The project broke ground in June 2011.

Initial planning for the school started in 2005. District voters in 2008 approved a bond issue to partially pay for the project, which will also be funded by state school construction funds, Belluomini says. Planning the school involved teachers, support staff, coaches and community members including city police. The school is designed for student safety and emergency conditions that could include a lockdown.

Campus Features

The school sits on 54 acres in the northern part of Merced, two-and-a-half miles from the University of California campus. All nine buildings will be steel frame construction with a brick veneer. Six of the buildings will be two stories high, with the rest single-story. The quad formed by the buildings will approximate two football fields in size.

El Capitan High School will be built to California's Collaborative for High Performance Schools specifications. This includes the use of sustainable products and materials including louvered windows, Belluomini adds.

The finished campus will house 82 classrooms, two gymnasiums including a 1,400-seat facility, a 400-seat theater, and a 25-yard by 30-meter swimming pool.

“The new El Capitan High School has been designed to provide a 21st Century learning environment to the students of Merced,”  says Paul C. Bunton, AIA, president of BCA Architects of San Jose, which is the designer of the new buildings.

“The campus has been designed to form a quadrangle that provides safety and security to the students and staff while creating a well-landscaped sustainable environment that supports student gathering and social interaction on the interior of the campus,” he explains.

Every classroom will feature a SMART board, projector, auxiliary speakers and wireless internet access. One of the classroom buildings will house a special education program including a life skills classroom with a working stove, dishwasher and sink, Belluomini says.

An industrial arts building on campus will include a greenhouse, a lath house, agricultural science lab and wood and metal shops.

Local Impact

While work on the site is still in its early stages, Merced Union High School District has already paid more than $2 million in fees to the city of Merced to allow construction to move ahead. This includes a $1.7 million impact fee to the city to mitigate traffic created by the new school, as well as an $896,000 water and sewer connection fee.

The district also expects to spend $2.7 million to improve roadways surrounding the school, including widening the road directly in front of the school and installing a traffic signal. Other infrastructure work includes elevating 12 acres of land by approximately four feet to allow all buildings to be above the site’s flood plain.

Contractor Ties

Merced Union High School District is working closely with Bernards Construction during construction. “The contractor is very professional and very well-staffed,” Belluomini says.

Bernards keeps all information relevant to the project such as bill submittals and change-orders accessible through an internal computer system the district, architect, inspector and subcontractors can readily access. The contractor has also helped the district save $1.3 million through value-engineering, and arranged subcontractor discounts totaling $585,000, he adds.

Roughly 50 percent of the project expenditures are through local suppliers and subcontractors working on the project. “Our bond issue passed at the time the recession hit, so one of the criteria we had was that the general contractor must use Merced County subcontractors, vendors and laborers,” Belluomini says. “Bernards has a full-time person on site whose job it is to involve as many local participants on the project as possible.”

Founded in 1974, Bernards Construction specializes in delivering a range of construction services to clients in the education, commercial, municipal, healthcare and residential sectors. “We value partnerships and communication,” the company says. “Early planning, clearly defined roles and a team-focused approach streamline the construction process to deliver the highest level of service from design through close-out.”

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