ANTIOCH -- It's a sight that Panther Country has been waiting to see for decades.
Bulldozers were hard at work last week knocking down the well-worn bleachers at Eells Stadium, marking one of the first visible signs of the $56.5 million project to renovate aging Antioch High.
"People in the community are no longer asking when it is going to start, but now they want to know what's coming next," Principal Louie Rocha said.
On the other end of the campus, abatement work is under way to prepare the 59-year-old school's cafeteria for demolition. That building, which students have crammed into for decades, will be razed at the end of the month.
"It's right on schedule," said Tim Forrester, Antioch Unified's associate superintendent of business and operations.
Added Rocha: "It will be a real shot in the arm, and I think the community feels that our students deserve to have equitable facilities to others in the region."
When work is completed by the end of 2016, Antioch High will have reconfigured classrooms with upgraded technology, lighting and furniture better suited for student learning groups.
Other features are a new library and media area, including a college and career center; a larger cafeteria that allows more students to eat comfortably; and renovated sports facilities, including a new pool and locker rooms.
The goal is also to preserve some of the school's history, including the large trees, brick facade and plaques along with corridors from the past graduating classes.
"This is a major undertaking. It's the first time we've done something like this where we're redoing an entire school," Forrester said.
The dominoes-like construction project is a delicate operation in that it requires significant coordination among contractors to not interfere with classes in session.
"We will have to make sure there is always enough space available," Forrester said.
Rocha said that will be the "messy part," and that flexibility will be needed from the students, parents and staff.
So far, so good, according to the firm managing the day-to-day work.
"It's a well thought-out plan," said Rich Dunlap, a project manager with RGM and Associates construction. The contractors on site have already been putting up barriers separating where the kids have had summer sports workout sessions, Dunlap said.
In 2012, voters in the older part of the city approved paying an additional $50 in property tax each year for the renovation. More than 61 percent of voters supported the $56.5 million school bond measure. The approval came after a similar measure failed by just 31 votes five months earlier.
If state funding becomes available, additional features from the original wish list could bring the total cost up to $80 million. Forrester said the district will seek the state modernization funds or whittle down its want list to "get it to what (the district) can afford."
One challenge that can arise on an older site is unforeseen conditions. Some unexpected piping was found below the athletic field, but it will not cause any major delays, Dunlap said.
A unique aspect of the rebuild is that the suburban campus will become a learning tool for students. Antioch High's engineering, environmental studies, media technology and public service academies have had a hand in some of the design, construction and public outreach for the renovation.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.
REBUILDING PANTHER COUNTRY:
Here is the latest schedule on when work is expected to be completed for the various stages of Antioch High. The plans are subject to change, depending on approvals.
Construction: Summer to early spring 2015
Construction: Summer to August 2015
Design: Summer to January 2015
Approvals: January to May 2015
Construction: September 2015 to August 2016
Classroom modernization (done in four stages)
Design: Summer through July 2015
Approvals: Two in mid- to late 2014, two in mid- to late 2015
Construction: First piece done by early 2015, last by end of 2016
Source: Antioch Unified School District