Keizer Elementary breaks ground on renovations

Keizer Elementary Principal Lizi Aguilar-Nelson, Salem-Keizer Public Schools Director of Facilities Joel Smallwood take a photo with triplets Aria, Andi and Alix McKenzie at the groundbreaking ceremony for Keizer Elementary’s renovation project on Tuesday, May 24, at Keizer Elementary. (JOSHUA MANES/Keizertimes)

Keizer Elementary is set for an overhaul beginning this summer, and a ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony was held on Tuesday, May 24, to celebrate the scheduled beginning of construction. 

The project is part of the $619.7 million 2018 bond that has grown to $758.7 million for school expansions and improvements, and will provide additional and expanded spaces including a new cafeteria and kitchen, a multipurpose fitness room, reorganized drop-off lanes and other improvements.

The event offered photo opportunities with the ceremonial gold shovels, an excavator and games. 

It also offered a chance to get a better look at the plans, and the highlight of the plan appears to be the new cafeteria and kitchen.

“Keizer was one of those schools that was our example of why a cafeteria is so important,” Karma Krause, the capital construction public engagement manager at Salem-Keizer Public Schools, said. “The lost time that you spend in transition, it delays not just learning time but also rest time for the kids. So I think there was an estimate at that time that learning time in a school with a cafeteria would have about two weeks additional time in the classroom.”

Keizer Elementary has the most students of any elementary school in the district, and the lack of a centralized cafeteria could lead to a rather chaotic scene come lunch time. 

Joel Smallwood, the director of facilities for Salem-Keizer Public Schools, visited the school a couple times during lunch to see how things worked for himself.

“They did it wonderfully,” Smallwood said. “It was orchestrated, it worked really well. But it looked like chaos because people were crossing, going here and there and everywhere.”

The new cafeteria offers many advantages to the school, according to principal Lizi Aguilar-Nelson, including less of a mess for the custodial crew to deal with and hopefully a reduction of ants.

But the biggest aspect to her is bringing the students together.

“For me, most importantly, is that social interaction,” Aguilar-Nelson said. 

And the cafeteria isn’t the only part of the project that Agular-Nelson sees as providing more opportunities for that social interaction.

The multipurpose fitness room can not only be used as space for two or three additional classrooms, according to Aguilar-Nelson, but also can host smaller concerts. The smaller, more intimate venue can bring people closer, and possibly offer a funner experience, she said. 

Perhaps the biggest part of the project for the community, especially those without students, is the improvements to the drop-off and pick-up area, a common issue at most schools in the area.

“We knew it, but the community reminded us of it too,” Smallwood said.

Smallwood said by redoing the front of the school it will help with the flow of traffic in and out of the parking lot. 

But despite the improvements, Smallwood urged that it won’t eliminate the congestion entirely. 

“It’s not going to solve it all because everybody shows up in such a narrow window of time, but it will be much better,” Smallwood said. 

The project also plans for the future, with four additional classrooms. Aguilar-Nelson said they are fine with the current number of rooms, but anticipate growth and want to be ready when more students are on campus. 

The 15-month project is set to begin in June 2022 and finish up in September 2023, in time for the fall semester, according to Smallwood. 

Smallwood said there are some projects that have had to be delayed, but Keizer Elementary was always planned for 2022, despite some projects beginning in 2019.

“When we do this we’re displacing people, especially in the summers,” Smallwood said. “We had to bite it off in chunks so that we could manage it each year and so that our contractors could handle it. If we had put too much into the marketplace either the cost would have gone up or we wouldn’t have been able to get contractors to do it all.”

The projects that have been delayed can be attributed to a lack of bids or bids too high to accept, Smallwood said. He attributes much of it to busy contractors and the current high costs of materials. 

The global production issues that have been seen since the pandemic could be a problem, but Smallwood thinks that is the only foreseeable challenge that could arise.

“Anything that’s manufactured or anything that has a computer chip in it is at higher risk right now to get it on time,” Smallwood said.

Aguilar-Nelson, Smallwood and Krause were all extremely grateful and thankful to the voters for passing the 2018 bond measure, and look forward to the improved school grounds.

“We are extremely excited,” Aguilar-Nelson said. “Teachers are excited, parents are excited, the kids will be excited once they come here.”

Zachary Jadin, seven-years old, dumps dirt from his shovel during a photo at the Keizer Elementary groundbreakingceremony on Tuesday, May 24,at Keizer Elementary. (JOSHUA MANES/Keizertimes)

First-grader Zachary Jadin poses for aphoto at the Keizer Elementary groundbreakingceremony on Tuesday, May 24,at Keizer Elementary. (JOSHUA MANES/Keizertimes)