City and school district officials joined more than 100 residents and students to officially open the new facilities at J.O. Ford Elementary School in Richmond on Saturday, including new classrooms and playgrounds and modern, colorful facade.
“When our kids can go to a first-class, world-class facility like this,” Councilman Jim Rogers told the crowd, “we say we care about education, it’s important. The kids can see that we’re walking the walk.”
The ribbon-cutting ceremony and pancake breakfast Saturday morning marked the realization of a more than 3-year project. The school’s newly rebuilt façade features sharp lines contrasted with smooth ovals, including a towering archway at the entrance. The buildings cradle a new playground and other nearby recreational facilities built with eco-friendly, nontoxic materials, school officials said. The color pattern features mild yellows and other rich earth tones.
Kids scampered about the playground and ballfield while speakers took turns at the lecturn Saturday, the school’s sharp new lines serving as a backdrop.
School District Superintendent Bruce Harter told the crowd the stunning architecture may be the most beautiful in all the district. “This will provide an environment essential to promote learning for the next 60 to 75 years,” Harter said
The school’s architecture not only enhances the surrounding community and will give elementary age children an educational foundation for high school and college, it will be part of a better future, Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said.
“This is where our children will grow into better citizens,” McLaughlin said.
Several speakers also praised Principal Barbara Penny-James, who has lead the school during several challenging years as ongoing construction forced students and teachers to use temporary classrooms.
Penny-James paraphrased Nelson Mandela, telling the crowd that education is the best weapon for winning the future.
The money for the modernization of the school came from Measure J, passed by voters in 2005. The measure freed up $400 million in bond money to repair school facilities, improve classroom safety and technology, and relieve overcrowding shall the West Contra Costa Unified School District.
Ford was a Measure J project with a construction budget at $18.7 million, which included $3.4 million in state funds, according to school coordinator Maria Resendiz.
J.O. Ford School was built in 1949, and was named after Jeston O. Ford, a city tax collector and assessor.
Rogers also highlighted the work of the city council, which in recent years has taken the unusual step of approving funds for school services—normally the province of school districts and the state—including helping to keep John F. Kennedy High School open despite budget cuts.
“There are no lines dividing the schools and the city,” Rogers said. “Our futures are joined together.”