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Demolition of Portola Begins – Chomp by Chomp

As the attached photos and video show, steel jaws of heavy construction machines were turned to destruction Friday as they chewed off part of the old Portola Middle School in El Cerrito. The knock-down begins in earnest next week, school officials said.

The sky was a somber gray Friday as large pieces of construction equipment – looking like a T-Rex robots – bit into the old Portola Middle School in El Cerrito.

The 62-year-old school buildings were condemned by the West Contra Costa Unified School District because they sit on a slope deemed too unstable in an earthquake for student safety.

The deconstruction work this past week has been "minor," while the long-awaited "heavy demolition" is scheduled to begin next week, said E. Keith Holtslander, the school district's director of facilities and construction.

Workers have been at the site, located at Moeser Lane and Navellier Street, since spring, removing and containing hazardous materials in the buildings and preparing for the knock-down.

Portola classes are being held in temporary buildings on level ground at the western end of the site until a new Portola Middle School is built at the site of the former Castro Elementary School in El Cerrito.

The sloped portion of the current site will be graded and left empty by the school district for the time being. The temporary buildings on the flat western portion of the site, which are now being used by Portola students, will be used temporarily by Fairmont Elementary School students after the new Portola is built. Fairmont will be rebuilt on its current site.

After the Fairmont students move back to their new school, the City of El Cerrito may use the flat portion of site for soccer fields or other uses, depending on city needs at the time and agreements with the school district.

We thank Patch contributor Betty Buginas for the attached photos and video.

To see past stories about the school, click "Portola Middle School" next to Related Topics below. For alerts to future stories about the school, click the Keep me posted button below.

Debbie Weeks September 30, 2012 at 10:11 PM
Selfish of all the sentimental dreamers for believing that the preservation of Portala , in it's oversize, unsafe, under cared for state could provide our children with what they deserve. A earthquake safe, clean, modern amenities school that they can be proud of.
Margaret Maher September 30, 2012 at 11:39 PM
While all the dust is in the air, they are having school below the demolition. I know the experience because I taught at the new Helms, while the old one was being taken down. Sad to see Portola go. I too have seen my elementary sold for a private school and my high school gone and replaced with a new middle school. This makes all three. ( El Monte, Portola, and Ells)
Kathy A. September 30, 2012 at 11:44 PM
I live pretty close to the Portola site, and so far -- there has been a lot of work done already -- there has not been a lot of noise. Probably there will be some with the final tear-down, which hopefully will go quickly. So much has been torn out and taken away already. There is kind of no way to win, here. Costs are obviously an issue for any public project; and requiring work only on weekends and holidays would mean -- I think -- that the costs will be much greater, the work will be slower to completion, and that there will still be disruption for the neighbors. Because this deconstruction has gone as smoothly as it has, I'm hoping the wrecking-ball phase will also be accomplished with good warning, with precautions for the students, and very quickly.
Janice Fabini October 03, 2012 at 06:58 AM
I would like to say that building a new middle school in El Cerrito is a good thing. Portola needed rebuilding badly, whether you liked any part of it, hated it, or are just grumpy about change. The idea of not having a middle school in our community tells our students that during their difficult early adolescence, we would just as soon they disappear. That is not a constructive message, and if it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes the village during the entire life of that child, not just during the "cute" years or the "mature" years. If the only suitable site not sold off to private schools is the former Castro site, then let's please help the district and the community to do a good job. Please come and be part of the process. Is the site smaller than some "ideal" middle schools? Help it to be workable. Are there now way more students at Fairmont due to the influx of Castro students? Please come help with the situation if you possibly can. Volunteer time to supervise at crowded times of the day, help raise funds for grants to help the schools. There is a history of cutting maintenance budgets and cutting hours for instructional aids and maintenance workers (and hence benefits costs) in this district to minimize cuts to the classroom. The resources available to the district are limited, and come with many strings attached. Please help by passing Proposition 30, Measure G (for instruction), and Measure E (for rebuilding unsafe facilities)!
Lathan Fields November 08, 2012 at 06:25 AM
This was a personal piece of architechure. Could be seen from miles away. White, strong and graceful. A little overwhelming to treverse, but still the sun would dance all around it, into the sunset.

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