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New School May Not Be Ready for 1st Day of Classes : Oak Park: Unfinished construction of the new Red Oak elementary facility has officials considering plans to delay the start of the year.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For weeks, officials of the Oak Park Unified School District have assured anxious parents that construction of the new Red Oak Elementary School would be finished in time for the beginning of school.

The school’s Parent-Faculty Assn. even posted a sign at the school site that confidently states: “Red Oak Elementary Will Open Sep. 7, 1993.”

But with one week to go, a school official on Monday said one of the main contractors has fallen so far behind that the $4.5-million school may not be ready until the second week of classes.

And board members are considering contingency plans to delay the start of school or send Red Oak’s 257 students elsewhere.

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“We are very, very concerned that they are not going to finish,” said Assistant Supt. Stan Mantooth. “We knew that we were going to be down to the wire, but we thought we’d be done by now.”

Mantooth blamed the delay on contractor Aurora Modular Industries of Riverside, which fabricated and is assembling the 18 modules that fit together to form 14 classrooms for the kindergarten through fifth-grade pupils. Three of the buildings will serve as the office, library, and special education classroom until another building is completed next year.

Mantooth said Aurora officials assured him the work would be done by the middle of this week, giving school officials time to install furniture and equipment over the Labor Day weekend and be ready for school on Tuesday.

“I was misled,” Mantooth said.

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At the current pace of work, he said, the job may not be completed for another two weeks.

Clint Pooley, Aurora’s sales manager, said his company informed Oak Park officials more than two months ago that the completion date was uncertain. He said crews are working overtime to complete the job, but added, “I don’t know whether that’s going to work.”

Pooley said the school is unique and was designed and constructed on a rapid schedule. He said much of the delay was caused by the Office of the State Architect, which took two months longer than anticipated to approve the plans.

“I’m sure everybody’s anxious now. So are we. But a month from now, everybody will be as happy as a lark,” Pooley said.

Under the $1.3-million construction contract with the school district, Aurora faces $400 a day in penalties if its work is not completed by Friday, Mantooth said. The contractor also may be liable for the costs of sending the students to other sites.

Four of the five Oak Park school board members toured the school Monday afternoon during an all-day board retreat. Board members will meet with some Red Oak school parents and teachers tonight to discuss contingency plans.

Heavy equipment graders were leveling dirt outside the building in preparation for the asphalt work on a playground and parking lot today. Window openings were covered with brown wrapping paper, and workers were sealing the plywood floors in preparation for carpeting.

After inspecting the site, board President Wayne Blasman said he expects the delays to be short, and that the school will be worth the wait.

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“You look at the outside and you say, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ You walk in the inside and you say, ‘this is fabulous,’ ” Blasman said.

Judi Barlowe Fields, president of the Red Oak Parent-Faculty Assn., said families are generally upbeat despite the potential delay. She said more than 50 families have volunteered to help teachers and administrators move in over the Labor Day weekend.

“Basically, everyone who owns an electric screwdriver is on the committee,” Fields said. “I think that everybody’s looking at this like an adventure.”

Another parent said she had confidence in the school district and that a few days’ delay would not be a problem.

“What we’re going to get in the long run with the school is going to be so spectacular that it’s worth waiting for,” said Lori Brody, whose daughter Jennifer will enter the first grade.

Red Oak parents will learn the latest about construction and contingency plans at a school orientation meeting Thursday at the nearby Oak Hills Elementary School.


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