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With the crash, crunch and squeal of a yellow excavator, prowling and chomping down like a starved creature, the first phase of the Mount Elden Middle School renovation began.

It took just over an hour Wednesday morning for the excavator to demolish the 40-year old modular building holding the school’s 300-wing: puncturing the roof like a balloon, crumpling walls as easily as paper and pulling out wires until they snapped.

A handful of school staff and administrators gathered to witness the start of the project, the largest within Flagstaff Unified School District since the renovation of Flagstaff High School’s 700-wing in 2007.

Cara Slaughter, MEMS assistant principal, was among the onlookers. She completed her student teaching at MEMS more than 20 years ago and watched alongside colleagues as a part of the school she had known since her arrival came down in large chunks.

“It’s a little bittersweet, but what’s coming is going to be fantastic, so it’s really, really exciting,” she said.

The 8,000 square-foot building, holding about eight classrooms, was cleared to make room for a two-story permanent building, which is scheduled to be completed as early as the start of the 2020-21 school year.

The first floor will hold science classrooms, with a library/media center on the second floor.

The current entrance to the school will also be reworked to support the new facility: instead of descending on outdoor twisting stairs or ramps to enter the front office, visitors will be able to enter the second-floor media center from street level. Interior elevators, ramps and stairs will lead to the office.

There will still be an outdoor courtyard, though, with covered walkways to reduce snow accumulation.

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Tom Safranek, FUSD’s career exploration coordinator and former principal of the school, said the new media center will function partly as a community space, unlike the current library, which is tucked away in a corner of the school.

“It will be more of a central feature of the school,” he said.

Exposed walls will be sealed this week to prevent water damage and temporary covered walkways will be added for students and staff before the school year begins.

New modular buildings will arrive next week for assembly and will be used as additional classroom space throughout the construction.

Bob Kuhn, FUSD assistant superintendent for operations, said the district got its full value out of the now-demolished modular building; these structures typically have a lifetime of 30 to 40 years.

After construction is complete, Kuhn said the new set of portable classrooms will be moved to elementary schools like Knoles, Marshall or Thomas, where they will replace structures that have also exceeded their lifetime.

Phase two of the MEMS renovation – replacing existing interior features like flooring and carpets, cabinets and light fixtures – will start in the fall, with most of the work occurring next summer, said project director Michael Horn with McCarthy Building.

The old library, as well as computer labs – unnecessary now that each student will be receiving an iPad – will also eventually be repurposed as classrooms.

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Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at kolson@azdailysun.com or by phone at (928) 556-2253. 

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