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New digs for kindergartners
A new $4.3 million kindergarten wing at Keyes Elementary School was dedicated Friday evening in recognition of Sandy Rico, a retired teacher who spent 41 years nurturing and educating pre-schoolers and kindergartners here.

"It's an honor having this school facility named after me," said Rico at a dedication ceremony which included public tours. The ceremony was scheduled in time for the opening of school in Keyes on Monday.

The 12,000-square-foot wing consists of six kindergarten classrooms and two primary classrooms. The 40-foot-wide by 265-foot-long building also includes staff and student restrooms. Architect Gary Gery of DLR Group WWCOT in Modesto said the building was designed as three two-room classroom suites with connecting teacher workroom and shared restrooms for a close walk for the youngsters.

Construction has been taking place on the campus for the past 10 months by contractor McDonald Glenn Co. of Ripon, said Keyes Schools Supt. Karen Poppen, "without a penny of state funding." The building sits on what was once a row of eight classroom portables.

The project was funded by a $5 million bond measure passed in 2005 to modernize Keyes Elementary School and provide for other facilities in the district. The building is the final of three modernization efforts, said Poppen.

She acknowledged that the project "doesn't have everything in it that we would like it to have." Items such as teaching boards will come as the funds become available.

Poppen said growth in the district made the building a necessity.

"This is actually part of a modernization plan for Keyes Elementary," said Poppen. She said Keyes had two old kindergarten classrooms but five kindergarten classes.

The voters in Keyes approved $5 million in school construction funding in Measure L in 2005. The district wanted to use part of that money on a 2007 modernization project to bring up Keyes restrooms up to the standards in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A decision was made to build a new wing since construction on the construction dates back to the 1960s.

In November 2007 the district dedicated a $2.2 million multi-purpose room / gym at Spratling Middle School.

The new wing features an enclosed play area with a grass play area and paved tricycle track. Older playground equipment located elsewhere on campus was moved to the new enclosed play yard.

"You want the learning environment to be both outside and inside," said Poppen.

Rico, born in Turlock and raised in Hilmar, began teaching preschool in Keyes in 1969. She switched over to kindergarten teaching in 1993. She retired in June 2009 after 41 years of teaching. One of those who was influenced by Rico was Dorothy Hulst, now Early Childhood Education instructor at Modesto Junior College.

Rico appeared overwhelmed by all the attention on Friday and hugged numerous friends and well-wishers.

"It feels very strange not working," said Rico. "But I'm enjoying the time I'm spending with my mother."

Rico said she is looking after for her 86-year-old mother.