A group of Oak Grove Elementary teachers ooh'd and aah'd like grade-schoolers Tuesday as two large backhoes demolished the Medford school's gymnasium to make room for a commons area.

The razing of the 80-year-old gym is part of a $9.3 million project that will overhaul much of the West Main Street school by building a new gym, administration building and music room as part of a circular commons area that will connect and centralize the campus. Classrooms also will be renovated.

“I have a soft spot for the old gym, but the new one will be great,” said Cathy Millbank, who teaches first grade at Oak Grove.
The destruction began at 9 a.m. with backhoes pawing away large chunks of wood and sheet metal as teachers and Principal Julie Evans watched from the safety of a nearby classroom.

Evans said refurbished classrooms will feature updated lighting and new heating and cooling systems and allow for more computers for students.

“We could only have one or two computers because our electrical system couldn’t handle any more,” Evans said.

School officials cut large chunk of hardwood from the old gym’s wall and had each student sign it in permanent marker. The marker will hang in the new gym to “keep the old school’s history alive for new students,” Evans said.

Project manager Jim McNamara of McNamara Engineering said the project is running according to plan. He said the classrooms will be ready by September, and the new commons area should be constructed by September 2009.

Knocking down the old gym will create an open space where children and teachers can gather. The school was built in 1891.
“The new administration offices will feature lots of glass and skylights,” McNamara said. “It will give the space a more open feeling.”

The demolition at Oak Grove is one of many summertime construction projects going on at schools across Medford as part of a $189 million bond measure voters approved in 2006.

Later this week work will begin on a $15.8 million renovation of Lone Pine Elementary School, which involves demolishing and replacing a combined gymnasium and cafeteria, the administration building and the school’s original 1926 structure. A building of four classrooms will remain on campus until the new construction is complete, at which time it also will be razed.

The full architectural design for Jackson and Roosevelt elementary schools by Opsis and Medford-based Abell Architectural Group will be completed in the summer, with bids accepted in the fall.

Mary Carlon felt a tinge of sadness as she watched the backhoes rip apart the Oak Grove gym Tuesday. Carlon began teaching Oak Grove second-graders in 1958 and held the position for 29 years before retiring.

“The new gym will be good for the kids, but I’ll miss it,” Carlon said. “I came out here to watch for sentimental reasons.”

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.