CUSD welcomes new Service Center at district office

School may not be starting until next Wednesday, but Claremont Unified School District Service Center Supervisor Rick Cota and his crew have been busy all summer long.

One of their most pressing projects has been moving into a new Service Center, just in time for the new school year. It’s an 8,400-square-foot steel manufactured building with a customized interior, located on the site of the district office at 170 W. San Jose Ave.

Fifteen percent of the space is devoted to the administrative offices of the Service Center, which is the headquarters of CUSD’s grounds and maintenance departments and whose staff oversees any modernization or construction.

The building’s compact size may sound like a come-down for the district, given that the previous Service Center, located on Baseline Avenue, was 10,000-plus square feet.

According to Mr. Cota, however, the new digs are a vast improvement.

The old Service Center, which was 70 years old, had been randomly expanded over the years.

“You had to go from room-to-room and everything was open. It was like a catacomb,” Mr. Cota said.

The configuration rendered the space impossible to air condition adequately, so Mr. Cota and his staff used to spend as much time as possible away from the building and onsite at schools.

The old Service Center’s prodigious size had become obsolete over the years as the district got rid of its fleet of buses, contracted out for its landscape maintenance and started ordering school supplies online rather than stockpiling them in warehouses. So in May 2013, CUSD held an auction, in which the nearly 144,000-foot property was snatched up in less than five minutes by homebuilder D.R. Horton. The company paid $7 million for the parcel, which is expected to close escrow in October.

From the start, Mr. Cota was enthusiastic about the sale of the property and the creation of a new, significantly streamlined Service Center. The public was invited to weigh in during several weeks of discussion on where to place the district’s new center of operations, during which San Antonio High School was considered for a time as a potential Service Center site. The decision to place it a stone’s throw from the Richard S. Kirkendall Center was a great one, according to Mr. Cota.

“The superintendent and all of the departments are located here,” he said, indicating the neighboring building. “It’s convenient being able to physically speak to a stakeholder fairly instantly instead of from across town, which makes for a kind of out-of-sight, out-of-mind feel.”

The new Service Center has beautifully working air conditioning, which is a particular blessing during a hot Inland Valley summer. The way it’s built, Mr. Cota said he can stand at one point and see everything, from the carpenter’s area to the plumber’s area.

When construction first began, the sound from the 10 freeway was so loud Mr. Cota said, “You couldn’t even hear yourself think over the drowning hum of the vehicles.”

Before construction, the noise issue was of particular concern to school board member Sam Mowbray, who said he was worried about the effect the freeway’s roar would have on Service Center workers. Partly due to his advocacy, a sound wall has been built on the south side of the property that significantly blunts the sound of traffic while you are outdoors and renders it imperceptible when you are in the building.

Lisa Shoemaker, assistant superintendent of business services, has not yet calculated the total cost of construction of the new Service Center, but she said it came in a bit over the original $1.6 million bid. The escalation was due to additional architect fees and moving fees, she said. 

Since CUSD did not originally own the property or construct the building housing the district office, it lacked an “as built,” documentation from land surveys and an architect that detail information like what’s underground on a particular site.

“Because there was no historical information, we ran into a few things as we built—questions as to where the utilities were located, for instance That led to some change orders,” she said. 

For Mr. Cota and his crew, the cost and the work involved in moving their operations was worth it.

“It feels efficient,” he said. “There’s no waste of space.”

—Sarah Torribio


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