EFFINGHAM — It has been a busy summer for Unit 40 school district, with several renovation projects being done at once. School will begin for all students on Aug. 27, which is a week later than usual, to accommodate the projects.

Back in January, the Unit 40 school board approved the sale of fire prevention and safety bonds for $15.9 million in projects at South Side, East Side, West Side, Early Learning Center, the Effingham High School sports complex and a major renovation on the Effingham Junior High School this year.

Assistant Superintendent Jason Fox said the junior high school project is in the beginning stages of what is expected to be a three summers project, due to the extensive work being done there.

“Every inch of these projects have been approved by the state,” said Fox. “We had to go through a long process of working with architects and the state.”

The junior high building will undergo major work over three summers, replacing plumbing, mechanical systems, fire alarms, heating/air conditioning system and windows. There will be a new west entrance that meets requirements for Americans With Disabilities Act.

Although it isn’t typical to have multiple projects going at once, Fox said, the adage of Murphy’s Law came into play for Unit 40.

“Our goal was not to do it this way,” said Fox. “We’ve been working on getting the junior high project into motion for more than two years now.”

Then, the roof started leaking at South Side. Next, the asbestos abatement had to be addressed at South Side to fix the roof. A moisture issue popped up at ELC and then the district lost its heating units at the sports complex.

“It’s one of those things, like Murphy’s Law,” said Fox. “If it can happen all at once, it will happen all at once.”

Effingham Junior High

After months and months of information gathering, inspections and state filings, the Effingham Unit 40 Board of Education hired contractors in January for the multi-phase renovation of the junior high school building.

Fox said the architects, engineering firm and construction management team, along with the district administrators meet regularly to sort out the projects. The bulk of the HLS funds will be used on this project at renovation, to cost about $14 million. The district researched building a new junior high building, but the cost of nearly $40 million.

There are nine different contractors, including a security contractor, and a data line contractor, working in the building at one time.

“Every room has computers, so we will be putting in more than 14 miles of data cable into this building over the next three summers,” said Fox.

The board approved contracts with FGM Architects and Poettker Construction for construction management of the extensive project. All of the work will be done in the scope of already state-approved Health-Life Safety projects.

The project is expected to take three summers and will involve gutting the facility and then updating it in phases. The plan is to utilize summers, since there is no place to house 650 students for extended periods while work is being done.

“The project underway is going well,” said Fox, about the start on large renovation at the EJHS.

Work at the junior high is happening in different areas of the building, but mostly in the 1939 section, first floor and basement areas during Phase 1. Right now, the project is on schedule.

The band and music areas have been given ceiling tiles for better acoustics in those rooms; an old Unit 40 office was converted into a couple special education classrooms; and a bowed wall in the gymnasium has been replaced. Masonry workers were placing exterior bricks this week, gearing up for school. And a new secure entrance is being added.

“The main entrance to that 1939 section is being re-done,” said Fox. “A handicapped ramp and stairs will be added. We are creating a safe vestibule, a controlled area, at the junior high.”

Fox said the junior high is the only building in the district that didn’t have a safe vestibule, until now.

The office space has been redrawn and will be better utilized for staff and students. It is expected to be more functional once completed at the start of this school year.

“The whole office complex has been reworked,” said Fox. “The office was pretty chopped up before. Now there is a nice meeting area with a conference table, and it will be a better working area for the secretaries.”

In 1939, the American’s with Disabilities Act didn’t exist, so much of the work being done in these three phases will help the building meet those requirements.

“All of the classroom doors had to be cut to make them wider and to allow for an 18-inch clearance on the door handle side, to allow for a wheelchair to enter,” said Fox. “And these walls are 12 ½ inches thick. The building at that time was also built to serve as a bomb shelter.”

The junior high will have a linoleum tile floor in the hallways and classrooms that is expected to last for 30 years.

Another big change will be in the basement cafeteria that will have sound softening tiles and air-conditioning for the first time ever.

Fox said the areas that were not touched by construction or renovation, or some that are completed have cleaning crews in the halls and classrooms getting ready for the new school year.

A punch list for the projects underway will be completed in the two weeks prior to school starting on Aug. 26 for teachers, and Aug. 27 for students.

Early Learning Center

But, at the Early Learning Center, a new roof has been installed and the HVAC system was improved to alleviate a moisture and humidity problem, all new LED lights were added and old ceiling tiles have been swapped out with new ones.

“It’s definitely a different atmosphere there,” said Fox. “When we did the HVAC work, we also wrapped all of the duct work. Because there was no insulation on the roof deck, when cool or warm air inside the building, would hit the opposite on the roof deck, we’d get moisture inside the building.”

The classrooms are about half done and slowly furniture is getting put back into the rooms that are completed.

South Side Elementary

At South Side, about 2/3 of the building received a new roof this summer. In that process, the contractors removed all asbesto in that part of the building.

“The roof was a concrete deck,” said Fox. “But, on the underside of that roof there was asbestos spray on sound proofing. So, we couldn’t replace the roof without removing the asbestos first. And to remove the asbestos we have to take everything out of the room, including the carpet. So, everything in those classrooms is new now, including the dry erase boards and new technology.”

South Side has replacement windows, new floor tile was placed in the classrooms and office and drop ceilings were added as was all new carpet for the two-thirds of the building. All new LED lighting was added to South Side as well, to be more energy efficient.

“Last year we added LED lighting in our bus garage,” said Fox. “We’re now averaging between $270 and $320 a month savings. We estimated we would pay off that investment there in about two years and we are right on schedule.”

Dawn Schabbing can be reached at dawn.schabbing@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151, ext. 138