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Aging Turlock science building will be demolished, redesigned in contemporary style

The Turlock High School science building is nearly 60 years old, but it has outlived its use due to a growing population of students and teachers.
Credit: Darden Architects, Inc.
A fresh design to replace an aging science building will be built at Turlock High School.

TURLOCK, Calif. — At Canal Drive and Berkeley Avenue in Turlock, a nearly 60-year-old science building on the corner of an iconic school campus will be torn down.

While nostalgia for the building may exist, there’s no doubting that this decades-old building in the Turlock Unified School District is a bit of a mess. Officials say there are no windows for the classrooms, a lack of clarity on travel paths in the building, a lack of modern safety fixtures, and an utter lack of space for a campus with more than 2,000 students.

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“The reason... it's happening is because the THS science building has been on their [the district's] radar for well over 10 years as a building that was not sufficient for the programs that are being taught,” said Scott Richardson, maintenance and operations director for Turlock Unified.

Richardson said the building hasn’t seen any significant money put into it since it was built. Without upgrades over the years, it became more cost effective to tear it down than remodel it.

“The current building was constructed under a code from 50 years ago or longer, and the code in the state of California changes annually to some degree but significantly over that time span,” said Richardson. “The code today regarding fire, light, safety, and access compliance is much more stringent than it was back then.”

In the current building, there’s a lack of a fire sprinklers, mechanical units for air conditioning and exhaust removal systems, and a lack of eyewash stations and full showers for all the classrooms. According to Richardson, all these elements will be in the new science building.

A lot of the input from a district design team was about the building’s functionality and solutions to technical and programmatic issues, according to Darden Architects. 

While the building is getting built to meet the district’s modern needs, Darden Architects didn’t take a light approach with the building’s striking new design.

“Turlock, it’s such a historic campus and the District Administration building… that building is so iconic that to put another building on the street of Canal Drive was quite a challenge,” said Grant Dodson, principal architect with Darden Architects.

Experts went through the campus to find six different kinds of brick weaved throughout the school. Architects took the brick detailing theme and applied it to the patterns on the building, developing a contemporary look with classic elements to better mesh with the campus.

“They [the district] didn’t want the high school students and the community to feel like the school was going backward but [that] they were actually moving forward,” said Dodson.

The district pursued a similar route, visually, with the Louise Marchant Gym remodel by refinishing the wooden bleachers of the near century old gym. However, unlike that remodel, very little is expected to be salvaged or reused from the aging science building.

“[For] The majority of that building, there’s nothing significant that we’ve determined to be worth salvaging, but we are trying to keep with the history of the campus,” said Richardson. “That’s why we’re trying to make sure that the new structure at least blends into the site and looks like it was meant to be there.”

On the inside of the building, architects are adding dazzling displays to the walls. The building is filled with symbols of biology, chemistry, and astronomy. This includes a striking tessellation cloud design showing the start of how chemicals get their shape and a Pioneer Probe graphic.

On the outside, there’ll be a sunshade for the windows with a pattern akin to a DNA strand and symbols for earth, air, water, and fire.

“There’s little things like that that are trying to identify the building as 'Hey, you! This is a science building.' But, it goes a little bit deeper, and it’s identified that way,” Dodson said.

Demolition for the old science building is expected for Dec. 9, where it’ll be torn down and rebuilt over 14 months from the ground up to the tune of $17 million. An additional $4 million will go to site work, parent drop-off lanes, lighted cross walks, and security lights.

With classrooms reassigned, the decades old building has been vacant since last summer in the lead up to its demolition.

Richardson says the new science building represents the largest project the district has taken on in years. 

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