Four days before classes began, the North Medford High School campus was crawling with construction workers and strewn with equipment and debris.
"I heard people say, 'It's not going to get done. Is school going to start late?' " said North Medford senior Brennon Clark. "It all got done, and it looks nice."
By the first day of school, the grounds were nearly spotless. Swaths of dusty, barren land in between North Medford's spread-out buildings were planted with fresh grass and protected by orange plastic mesh. Students and teachers were marveling at the nearly 60 classrooms that had been gutted of asbestos and mold and refurbished with additional windows and skylights, new floors, new ceilings and new heating and cooling systems.
"I love it," said math teacher Clag Offutt. "My classroom went from a cave to wide open space. I had no windows before. None. I felt claustrophobic."
A similar transformation happened at Lone Pine Elementary School, where Wednesday morning, only the sound of birds and a construction worker dragging a piece of metal piping across gravel could be heard when classes were in session.
Ongoing construction at North Medford, Lone Pine and Oak Grove Elementary School had raised concerns that the schools might be unfit to receive students.
But workers quickly prepared student space, and classes convened without any major complications, staff members and parents said.
"It feels very organized compared to what I was expecting," said parent Brooke Breazeale.
Construction will be a part of life this school year at North Medford, Lone Pine and Oak Grove.
School officials said they've taken steps to separate students from the construction. At Lone Pine and Oak Grove, tall wire fences covered with plywood cordon off construction sites, where buildings were demolished this summer and will be replaced over the school year.
"There was a lot of planning that went on," said Lone Pine Principal Kristi Anderson, who sent out campus maps and detailed instructions on how to drop off students and navigate the grounds before school started.
Teachers at Lone Pine used the temporary barriers as bulletin boards, posting class lists, directional signs and a yellow construction sign that said, "Kids at Work." Eventually, students will create murals to decorate the partitions.
Four Lone Pine classes have convened in portable buildings while new buildings are constructed. Teachers assigned to the portables said they felt lucky because unlike the remaining classroom wings, the temporary buildings have air-conditioning.
"My old classroom just got really hot or really cold," said third-grade teacher Elizabeth McKay.
The school office, displaced by the summer demolition, moved to the basement of the library building, with windows looking out at the new playground. The playground was shifted from the Lone Pine Road frontage to what was formerly the back of the campus, but which now serves as the center of operations.
Out of the 60 North Medford classrooms renovated this summer, two in the Home Economics building remained unfinished when school began.
Home Economics students last week shared classrooms with boxes and ovens awaiting hook-up but enjoyed views of the courtyard from new windows. The building has new restrooms and a restaurant-style kitchen that will be completed later in the month.
"It was a necessary and much overdue change, but it's appreciated," said North Medford senior Jaci Abeloe. "It adds pride because nobody likes to go to a school that isn't pretty to look at."
Before the renovations, North Medford's classrooms either lacked windows or had only a small one next to the door. Some had persistent leaks.
"The students outside the classrooms are more responsible now because they know we can see them," Offutt said.
Construction will begin again in October when workers will remodel three classrooms and an office in the Technical Arts building into six classrooms. Work on the foundation for an addition to the administrative building will begin in January. The design calls for creating a foyer at the entrance of the school. The campus now appears to have no main entrance, said North Medford Assistant Principal Linda Bradshaw.
Painting and new siding are still being applied but work is restricted to swing-shift hours when students aren't present, Bradshaw said.
The cafeteria will be renovated in summer 2010. The entire North Medford makeover is expected to cost about $34 million.
The $9.3 million Oak Grove project involved renovating classrooms and restrooms during the summer. A new gymnasium and administration building will be constructed next summer.
The budget for Lone Pine, including construction, design and other costs, is set at $15.7 million.
That project includes renovations to the library and two classroom wings and building more than 34,000 square feet of new space, including a combined gymnasium and cafeteria and an administrative-classroom building.
Much of the new construction will happen during this school year.
Some Lone Pine parents had expected traffic jams around the construction site, as parking is no longer available on site.
"I'm just really impressed," said parent Stacy Van Horn. "There is actually less traffic than before."
Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or email@example.com.