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New academy built in just 3 months

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River Islands Technology Academy staff gathers at the new school site.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin/

POSTED July 31, 2015 1:36 a.m.

River Islands at Lathrop has provided a lesson or two about building — and running a school — that others in California may want to note.

Six  months after Banta School District essentially kicked the highly acclaimed River Islands Technology Academy out of the $25 million campus made possible by Cambay Group — the developer of River Islands that put $12.5 million to match an  equal amount from the state,  the charter school is preparing to open for its third school year on Aug. 12.

It took three months to get the new campus just north of the original campus where Banta is preparing to open its own charter school built.   It cost less than $8 million. Not only was a bigger campus built for $17 million less but it was done 15 months quicker than the original school.

The quick turnaround after being given less than six months to vacate isn’t the most startling thing about RI Technology Academy.

Every teacher, administrator and staff member made the move as did all but four students. And the only reason the four students  didn’t move down the street was due to their moving out of the area.

Most of the  565 students who will be starting classes Aug. 12 are from the Manteca Unified School District with the majority hailing from the Mossdsale area of Lathrop just north of River Islands. The charter school has also picked up all the children of families that have moved into River Islands homes so far although Banta legally has to accept them. Meanwhile the waiting list to get into the kindergarten through eighth grade RI Tech Academy charter school has swelled to  more than 500.

Students that reside in River Islands  basically have first rights to attend the academy if their families so chose. So far that has what happened in all cases given the solid reputation the school built in just two years with its science, technology, engineering, and math curriculum.

The campus was placed on the future River Islands town center. When the charter school board decided to relocate and River Islands put up the $8 million to make it happen, there was four months left before the next school year.

Chapman committed

to quality education

“Alan Chapman (executive director of the privately owned Somerston Group Limited that owns Cambay and its River Islands project) really believed it was essential to keep the academy open,” said River Islands Project manager Susan Dell  ‘Osso.

The charter school board — of which Dell’Osso is president — quickly found out they couldn’t even order portable buildings within that time frame and be up and running. So they scrambled to secure existing portables that passed California Department of Architecture standards employed for schools, moved them to River Islands and then gutting them to essentially make them all new structures.

They brought in 15,000 tons of rocks to avoid having ramps to the classrooms. The structures are expected to last at least 30 years and are designed to move to another site when necessary. There are 27 classrooms, two computer labs, a library and an administration building. In additional a steel building was erected to house the gym. Not only does it accommodate a full-sized basketball court or three smaller courts, but an add on to the basic building allows lunch to be served without taking tables up and down taking the gym structure even more versatile.

A stage is being put in place that can serve audiences both outside the gym and inside it as well.

Being kicked out of the original school brought other pluses to the academy.

New location has

even newer technology;

sailing club planned

Since it is more than two years newer, the 27 miles of data wire put in place will bring the latest technology to the campus. Included are projectors in every classroom and even the gym and administration building where a device working in concert with the projector turns white boards  into touch screens. Every student uses tablets as well as having access to traditional computers to provide maximum versatility for learning.

The school is even greener than the one Banta is now operating. Three acres of ball fields were planted in Bermuda grass that requires 20 percent less water. All ball fields are being irrigated with 100 percent nom-potable water  recycled through the Lathrop wastewater treatment plant plus LED lighting has been installed throughout the school. None of that is at the original campus that housed the academy.

And as an added touch the adjoining manmade lake is being employed by a fourth grade teacher to start a sailing club for students.

“Sometimes problems create new solutions,” Principal  Brenda Scholl told nearly 100 construction workers, teachers, staff, and representatives of agencies such as the City of Lathrop and Lathrop-Manteca Fire District that made the short construction period possible.”

They were gathered Thursday to celebrate the minor miracle of going from nothing to almost ready for a new school year in three month’s time. As part of the ceremonies those gathered etched their names in concrete plus some added their handprints as well.

Great care was taken to make the campus not look like it consists of portable buildings. Some 3,000 plants and shrubs have been planted as well as 220 larger trees. Four miles of drip irrigation was put in place to save water to avoid using bubblers. Non-potable water is also used for the landscaping.

A trellis look was created outside the classrooms. Unsightly air conditioning and heating units are hidden behind extended facades that will eventually be used by teachers to plant gardens with their students.

Capping off the unique look is a large bell at the front of the school. That is in addition to one in the court yard that will be rung during weekly assemblies by the student of the week.

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