Last week the refurbished and renovated Blythe Park and Hollywood schools were shown off to the public at formal rededication ceremonies. The interiors of the two schools were completely transformed and updated over the summer, marking the end of a massive two-year project to renovate and modernize all five schools in Riverside Elementary School District 96, an effort that cost about $22 million.

The work done at Blythe Park and Hollywood this summer, plus some limited additional work at L.J. Hauser Junior High School, cost nearly $6.5 million. All five District 96 schools were fitted with central air conditioning in addition to new electrical and plumbing systems, floors and heating systems. Smart boards replaced blackboards in classrooms.

“This afternoon signifies the culmination of the hard work of countless people,” said District 96 Board of Education member Lisa Gaynor at the rededication ceremonies at Blythe Park School and Hollywood School on Oct. 15. “Over the last several years the Board of Education, coupled with district administration, have spent a significant amount of time planning and executing capital improvements as the district’s five schools.”

Gaynor, who attended Blythe Park School as a child and chairs the school board’s finance committee, was an unsung hero of the work done this summer. Workers had to race to finish the work so that schools could be opened on time on Aug. 27.

An ambitious schedule and a short summer made it a challenge to finish by the first day of school. Delays, especially at Hollywood School, made it even more difficult. Gaynor was onsite at Blythe Park and Hollywood schools frequently during the summer and was almost a constant presence in the final two weeks.

“Every time I was out there, she was there,” said Ramesh Nair, who served as the district’s owner’s representative on the project this summer and played a crucial role in getting the work done on time. “I would just give her a call and she would come over, so she was a key person.”

Mary Rose Mangia, who along with Gaynor, met with Nair and top district staff every Monday during the summer said that Gaynor’s role could not be overestimated.

“In the two weeks I went on vacation I think she was there three times a day,” Mangia said.

Gaynor said that it was important to be visible.

“For the last two weeks, myself and the owner’s rep were pretty much on site daily, two to three times a day,” Gaynor said. “We wanted to ensure that if there were any questions, or if there were problems that came up, they could be resolved quickly to get to the end goal, which was opening the schools. If the owner and the owner’s rep are visible, it makes everyone accountable.”

Gaynor said that it was it was a team effort to open the schools on time.

“It just wasn’t me and Ramesh,” Gaynor said. “It was everybody there. Everybody was working for the end goal.”

Gaynor praised the last-minute work of the district’s maintenance staff, led by Director of Maintenance Bill Radtke. The district staff put in overtime to get the schools ready for the first day of school.

“Bill and his staff had to do an incredible amount of work after the construction people turned over things, because all the floors in every single building were redone, but they had to be waxed,” Gaynor said.

At the Oct. 15 school board meeting, Nair gave the board a report on lessons learned this summer. He said that using five different prime contractors made coordination and scheduling difficult. He said that in the future he would recommend hiring a single general contractor instead of hiring prime contractors for each trade, advice that may be moot since the district has now completely renovated all its schools.

Nair also told the school board that the site superintendent at Hollywood School, an employee of Simpson Construction, the first among equals among the prime contractors, was “extremely weak” and after a while even stopped attending meetings.

“He had a hard time controlling the project,” Nair said. “That’s the reason we struggled at Hollywood to get it done, because he had no control of the subcontractors, absolutely none, zero.”

Employees from the district’s architectural firm, Concept 3, were also not present as much as he would have liked, Nair said. An architect by training, Nair said he had to give workmen directions in the final weeks to get the job done on time.

“I’m telling the guy who’s installing the partitions at Hollywood in the gym how to take out a piece of the wall,” Nair said. “That was not my job, but I had to give him directions on that.”

Nair said that the way Concept 3 was paid, as a percentage of the project, led to them not being incentivized to be constantly present at the job sites. Nair said that in general he had a good relationship with Concept 3 and the firm has a deep knowledge of the district’s buildings.

“I had a good relationship with Concept 3,” Nair said. “They were professional. Everything was fine. It’s not a finger pointing thing.”

Nair also told the board it would have been helpful if he had been hired earlier in the process. Nair and his firm, Vistara Construction Services, was hired in June on a five-month contract and paid $45,032 to serve as the district’s owner’s representative on the project. Board members consider that money well spent.

“I believe that, personally at least, that you delivered on everything that you told us we should expect and then some,” Kodama said.

Mangia seemed to sum up the opinion of the entire school board.

“You made the board and the administration look good,” Mangia said.