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Main story: Britton Middle School to undergo $50 million renovation project

Groundbreaking expected in June with completion before 2019 fall semester

Published in the December 7 – 20, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Marty Cheek

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Photo by Marty Cheek — Principal Chris Moore, students Isabella Nivela and Boaine Barnes, Casino Fajardo and his son C.J. jump for joy over Britton’s renovation.

When Britton Middle School sixth graders Isabella Nivela and Boaine Barnes get ready to enter high school, the students will look back at two years of a major $50 million construction project at the campus located at the northern entrance of downtown Morgan Hill.

The Morgan Hill Unified School District Board of Trustees at its Nov. 1 meeting voted unanimously to approve the first phase of upgrading the 22-acre campus, which was originally built in 1940 as Live Oak High School. It was converted in 1975 into a middle school. The renovation project will demolish the current administration office building and two old classroom wing buildings as well as the kitchen facility. Britton’s gym located on Keystone Avenue and auditorium located on Monterey Road will remain on the new campus. The highlight of the project is a two-story administration office and student center/library/kitchen building located where the current tennis courts are at Monterey and Keystone.

Ground-breaking for the new campus is expected in June and the completion is expected prior to the start of the fall semester in 2019, so Nivela looks forward to seeing the progress on the new Britton campus structures as she goes through seventh and eighth grade.

“My grandma use to come to this school, so it’s pretty old,” she said. “I think it’s good to have a new start and new classrooms because people say that old schools that never change are pretty boring. But a new school is exciting, and it will be fun to come into a new school.”

Barnes has noticed the peeling old paint on the campus and other unsightly qualities of the 75-year-old campus buildings. He also looks forward to seeing the demolition and new construction in the next two years.

“I think it’s really cool because pretty much everyone in my family has gone here,” he said. “And I’m the generation of my family that gets to see the new Britton campus being built.”

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Photo courtesy MHUSD — A rendering of the new Britton Middle School.

He likes the fact that the two-story structure along Monterey Road will help connect the campus on an architectural level to the downtown business district south of Main Avenue.

“This school has been around for a long time and the site is old and the kids here in town and this part of the county deserve a good campus. This is one of those examples where the kids deserve it and they’ve earned it over the years,” said Britton Principal Chris Moore. “From just a renovation of downtown, I think it’s incredible. The amount of work that they’re doing downtown, and now to have a brand-new school that transitions into downtown is phenomenal. I think from an education standpoint, we’ve always had great things happening inside these classrooms. And now we’re going to have a building that truly reflects the good work that goes on here.”

A year-long process of MHUSD faculty and staff meeting with parents and other groups in the community at engagement meetings gathered input and feedback to develop the campus. This will help to design a campus students can be proud of, he said. Among other amenities recommended in the engagement, the new Britton will have a state-of-the-art library upstairs, a fully-functioning kitchen and comfortable new conference rooms that the public will be able to use during off-school hours. A courtyard next to the new administration building will offer vistas of El Toro mountain to the west.

The design will help create an iconic feel as people travel along Monterey Road beside the new campus, Moore said.

“It will just be this beautiful flow as you’re driving south into Morgan Hill. It will say you’re in town now, you’re in the heart of the town,” he said.

Casino Fajardo, MHUSD’s director of construction and modernization, participated in the engagement meetings and now that the first phase is approved, intends to work closely with Morgan Hill city staff and members of the Morgan Hill Downtown Association to create a architectural design that will enable the new buildings to fit into the now evolving downtown yet retain a unique school feel. At this point, 100 percent of the funding will come from the $198 million Measure G bond fond, but he sees potential as the design is created to get funding from other sources including PG&E and the Santa Clara Valley Water District for environmental and energy-wise grants.

The design will also be flexible to include information technology infrastructure including fiber optics and cabling but adapt to next generation high-tech innovations that will come in future years such as perhaps robotics and badge key access for greater security, he said.

“It’s designing with the idea of being flexible,” Moore said. “It’s not building one particular way because trends change, teaching fads come and go. It’s creating a campus that ultimately can be flexible and be able to change and adapt easily.”

Fajardo attended middle school at the campus years ago, and he said his son, C.J., will also most likely go to the campus when he is older.

“I can’t wait to see it when it’s done. This is something that I think will bring Morgan Hill Unified School District to the forefront of the community,” he said. “It’s really awesome to have a campus downtown that’s going to be our face. It’s really amazing to me.”