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Magnolia Elementary renovations
Magnolia Elementary School's renovation cost $21 million and is part of Measure HH, the $265 million bond passed by voters in 2018 to renovate or improve all CUSD campuses. Photo by Steve Puterski
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Magnolia Elementary overhaul first of school district’s many renovations

CARLSBAD — The first of many school renovations under Measure HH, a bond measure to fund Carlsbad Unified School District’s extensive multi-year improvement program, is nearly complete.

Magnolia Elementary School, which opened in 1954, underwent a complete overhaul, including new classrooms, multi-purpose room, technology, natural lighting, an innovation lab, playground equipment, kitchen, fencing and a fresh-looking library, according to Principal Aaron Nelson and CUSD Superintendent Ben Churchill.

The cost for the rebuild was $21 million with only a few minor elements left to be completed after construction workers began their work last summer, Nelson said.

“The unveiling of our modernization coincided with our return to school, so it was like a rebirth for our school and community,” Nelson said. “It was like we were getting to start over fresh. It’s a school with deep history and deep ties to the community.”

The renovations are part of the district’s five-phase plan under Measure HH, a $265 million school bond passed by voters in 2018. Prior to the bond’s passage, the school district had set plans to expedite the bidding process and land reputable contractors due to the approval of a similar bond measure for other regional school districts.

Churchill said the second phase is currently in the planning stages and is expected to break ground on certain projects in summer 2022. These include campus-wide renovations at Aviara Oaks, Buena Vista and Jefferson elementary schools and Valley Middle School.

In addition to Magnolia, Kelly and Hope elementary schools are also undergoing “down to the studs” renovations, Churchill said, and those projects are nearing completion. Additionally, Carlsbad High School’s science building also received upgrades and six campuses added solar panels.

A second-grade class at Magnolia Elementary School
A second-grade class listens during a lesson on Dec. 6 at Magnolia Elementary School. The school is the first to complete most of its major renovations and modernization under the Carlsbad Unified School District’s $265 million bond. Photo by Steve Puterski

The projects at Kelly and Hope are expected to cost $19 million and $24 million, respectively, Churchill said.

As for Magnolia, Churchill and Nelson said one key component was to keep the school’s aesthetic in keeping with the character of the neighborhood. Nelson said many of the school’s population, which is about 500, are second and third-generation students.

“We wanted to honor the past and the tradition to our community that was so important to the school,” Nelson said. “But we also wanted to move into the 21st century and move it into the type of school that is going to prepare kids for their future and offer them the opportunities they need to be successful.”

For Nelson, though, the highlight of the renovations was to the school’s infrastructure, such as stormwater run-off, wiring, plumbing and duct system. He said rainfall would turn the middle of the campus into a flood zone, but now the run-off is diverted to an underground system.

Magnolia Elementary School renovations
The newly-renovated Magnolia Elementary School. Photo by Steve Puterski

Also, the school was able to expand its Magnolia Farms area, where students tend to several chickens and sell the eggs for feed. The upgrade will include a larger area for gardens, Nelson said.

“We were able to stage the construction, so a lot of the classroom stuff got done in summer when there were no students on campus,” Churchill said. “They were able to start teaching in the new classrooms right away. It looks and feels like it was built in the 1950s, but when you walk into the classrooms and they’re modern, bright and filled with technology.”

During The Coast News tour of Magnolia on Dec. 6, Nelson showed three classrooms connected by sliding doors, allowing classes to share resources and for kids accelerating through their specific grade curriculum to work at a higher level.

For example, a third-grader who excels at math and is advancing past the third-grade curriculum can join the fourth-grade class for instruction.