NAS LEMOORE — Congressman TJ Cox (D-Fresno) visited Akers Elementary School on Wednesday to tour the campus, meet with students and get an update on a construction project.

Akers is currently undergoing construction to build a 14-classroom junior high school wing and a large multi-purpose room.

Cox said he last visited Naval Air Station Lemoore — where Akers school is located — around 15 years ago, but this was his first visit since becoming an elected official last year.

He said it was great to not only tour the facilities and interact with students, but also great to see firsthand the investments being made into the community, especially for military families.

“This is going to be a first-class facility,” Cox said. “It’s the types of facilities and investment they deserve.”

The project at Akers has been a long time in the making, said Tom Addington, superintendent of Central Union Elementary School District.

Addington said several years ago, officials from the U.S. Department of Defense evaluated all public school campuses on military installation nationally.

He said the schools were rated on two criteria: condition and capacity. Akers was ranked 25th in terms of need on a list of 160 schools across the nation.

While Akers’ condition was in good shape, Addington said the K-8 school had an issue with capacity.

“We didn’t have the facilities to accommodate the number of kids that we have,” he said of the 720-student school.

Addington said Congress has annually appropriated funds to these schools for various construction projects, so when Akers’ name on the list came up in 2012, the school was invited to apply for the funds.

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While 80% of the $36 million project comes from federal money, Addington said the school district had to come up with a 20% match. The match took some time, but he said they were able to garner funds with help from state and local government.

The school finally broke ground on the project in February and is expecting completion in two years.

Addington said the junior high school wing will serve all sixth- through eighth-grade students, while the multi-purpose room will include a full-size basketball court, music classroom and a stage big enough to accommodate 125 musicians

“So when our award-winning junior high school band is going to play for the community, we’ll have a great facility for that event,” he said.

In addition, Addington said existing classrooms at the school will also be modernized. When everything is complete, he said the school will have the ability hold 850 students.

Addington said the project will not only be great for the students at the school, but also the entire base community. He said it was awesome to have support from Cox and thanked him for visiting.

“It’s great to make that connection with him so he can see what the federal dollars are doing, not only for this particular project, but also in educating the students,” Addington said.

He said the Central Union Elementary district is unique because about one third of its budget is federal money. The district includes Central Elementary, Stratford Elementary and R.J. Neutra, which is also located on the naval base.

R.J. Neutra came in on the list at 92, but Addington said the schools were recently re-ranked, so he is eagerly anticipating seeing if it’s moved up and might be in line for federal funding in the future.

Since Addington has been involved with this project since its inception, he said he’ll be personally excited to see it complete.

“That will probably one of the markers in my career that I’ll be really proud of,” he said.

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The reporter can be reached at 583-2423 or jzavala@hanfordsentinel.com

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