SAN MARCOS — Richland Elementary students returned from winter break on Monday to a brand-new school campus, which they had watched slowly become a reality over the past two years from their old school building next door.
The original Richland Elementary had been long due for an upgrade, having been built in the 1960s and holding the title of the district’s oldest school. That building now sits empty but is visible from the new campus, surrounded by construction fences.
“This has been nearly 20 years in the making,” said Principal Julie Barbara, recalling how she was first shown renderings for the school redesign in 1999. “There are lots of happy tears. People are excited. It’s what our community deserves — it’s a beautiful, beautiful new school.”
As the gates opened Monday morning, students rushed into the sprawling campus to find their new classrooms, where the familiar faces of their teachers and classmates were waiting. Plenty of staff, all clad in “Richland Construction Crew” shirts, were available to help families navigate the new school.
Eva Centeno, a mother to two kindergarteners and one third grader, said her kids couldn’t wait to see their new school and were anxious for winter break to be over.
“They were just stoked this morning — they woke up, and they just ran to school,” Centeno said, noting that her kids had been watching the construction of the new Richland. “We’ve been anticipating this opening throughout the weeks … and now it’s right before our eyes. It was exciting for all of us and exciting for the kids.”
Crews broke ground in the fall of 2021 after several stops and starts throughout the years due to a lack of funding and COVID-19 impacts. The result is a 44-classroom campus split between three single-story and two two-story buildings, with state-of-the-art amenities including a maker space, library and multipurpose room.
The designs are open and welcoming, with a focus on fostering creativity. There are several open space areas for students to sit and do hands-on learning, and glass accordion doors in the library allow the space to expand if needed.
Nathan Wulff, facilities coordinator and construction manager for the San Marcos Unified School District, said it’s fortunate that the rebuild was located on basically the same land as the old Richland, preventing families from switching schools.
“They all get to stay together, which is the best thing. Even though it’s disruptive, it’s the least disruptive to all the students,” Wulff said.
Wulff said that the old school building would be demolished this year and replaced with fields and new playground equipment ready for student use in the coming school year. Before the construction of the new school, things worked the other way around, with that site being used as the recess area for the old school.
However, the separate kindergarten and pre-kindergarten area has a smaller separate playground that sits in the center of the different classrooms.
The students’ excitement was matched only by the teachers.
“It’s fun to see the kids’ excitement about being in a new space. It’s fun to have all the bells and whistles of being in a new building,” said fifth-grade teacher Becca McCormick. “We’ve been talking about this for a long time.”