Clock ticking before Gilson Middle School closes forever
Building was Valdez High School when first built in new town after earthquake
After years – some say decades – of planning, delays, and two municipal votes, the project that will result in a new middle school in Valdez has taken on a sense of urgency, as school officials begin scrambling to prepare to hand the keys of the old building to the contractor.
The school will host a ground breaking ceremony a week from Friday, the last day of school. Only this year, it will be the last year students in Valdez will walk through one of the town’s oldest buildings since Valdez was relocated to its new location after the 1964 earthquake. The building was constructed in 1965 and was the original replacement building for Valdez High School.
Organizers say it will be a chance for the school alumni to visit the building one last time before the district hands the keys over to contractors and the demolition of the school begins before construction of a brand new middle school.
“It should be a festive time,” Morrison said about the event during the school board meeting Monday night.
With a free barbeque and generations of past, present and future students expected to be on hand to celebrate the old and ring in the new, Morrison said he believes there will be “a good time for all.”
But before construction, or the ground-breaking ceremonies begin, preparations to move the current schools impressive garden are underway. Last Sunday, Morrison put out the word that the school is looking for volunteers willing to help “bust sod” and prepare space at Hermon Hutchens for the daffodil and peony bulbs that need to be moved from the front of the old building during the two-year construction period.
“The digging of the flowers will take place Thursday, May 23… in front of Gilson Middle School,” Morrison said in an email sent Sunday. “If you have extra time, please bring your energy and gardening tools to help transplant the most beautiful peonies in Valdez.”
The bulbs will be replanted at the Hermon Hutchens site; the trees will be stored with the US Forest Service at its Crooked Creek visitors center.
“The more volunteers, the faster the plants will be rescued,” Morrison said.
Other logistical considerations are still in the planning stages. The movers are prepared to begin packing up the schools – lock, stock and barrel – shortly after the last day of school.
“We have a large number of movers coming in to help,” beginning the first week June, district superintendent Jacob Jensen said.
“That whole week is where we take it all out,” he told the board of education. Once the building is empty, it will be time for district employees to step back.
“It’ll no longer be our site,” Jensen said. “It’ll be a construction site.”
While school employees will personally move some sensitive equipment such as parts of the school’s technology department, the district will utilize professional movers to actually move desks, books, salvaged fixtures and everything else.
Morrison said professional movers are being hired for the move because of insurance requirements.
While the move is on, other plans are taking shape on how the high school will function while it is joined at the hip with a construction site.
High school supporters of the track program expressed concerns that athletes may not be able to fully participate in track and field for the next two years, as the district’s current track will be used as a construction site.
“The site where the track is will be a construction zone,” Morrison said.
City plans for a temporary football field behind the hospital will not meet track requirements and some school officials feel student athletes could be short changed or lose out on scholarship opportunities if an interim track that meets regulation standards is not built.
Valdez Star photo
The beautiful perennial flower garden, loaded with daffodils and peonies, is slated for moving from the front of the old Gilson Junior High School in the coming days. Principal Rod Morrison is looking for volunteers to help with the move.
“Out of the box thinking is asked for here,” board member Dr. Kathy Todd said during discussions on problems such as the lack of a track.
And sacrifices will be felt all through the district.
The swimming pool located inside Valdez High School is a good example. Access to the pool, which is open to the public outside of school hours, will be limited to its back entrance and will wrap around the football/track field with two lanes. The double lanes are required for emergency vehicle traffic.
“Everybody’s going to be twisted and crunched for a little while,” Morrison said. “It’s going to be painful.”
Anyone who can volunteer to help move the middle school bulbs and plants can contact Chris Karna or Morrison at 835-2244.