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PUSD to explore building new elementary school on Neal property

Trustees direct administrators to consider district-owned site

The Pleasanton school board Tuesday night took a step forward in planning for a new elementary school in the district, directing administrators to explore building on PUSD's Neal property in the southeast part of the city.

The board gave consensus, with vice president Mark Miller absent, to look at options for the 13.2-acre, district-owned site at 1689 Vineyard Ave. rather than bring in a consultant to research additional possibilities for a new elementary school. Administrators had asked the board to provide direction on issuing a request for proposals for a consulting firm that would identify and evaluate properties the district could buy, sell or exchange toward a new elementary school.

“My recommendation would not be to go with the RFP,” trustee Valerie Arkin said at the meeting. “We have that (Neal) property now – why would we not utilize that if we could?”

Trustees concurred upon hearing from interim superintendent Micaela Ochoa that she had just received a list of additional properties the district could look into from the city of Pleasanton.

“Because the city today actually gave us a list of potential sites, I'd like to see how that plays out before we start spending money,” trustee Steve Maher said.

The board's decision came after holding a one-hour workshop before the 7 p.m. regular meeting, where trustees heard options for how the district could pursue a new elementary school as part of the annual demographer's report.

At the workshop, a representative from Davis Demographics & Planning presented student population projections by residence that show enrollment is anticipated to decline over the next decade from 14,728 students in the fall of 2016 to 14,359 in fall 2026. The overall student population is expected to increase through fall 2019, when enrollment is projected to peak at 14,991 students; however, the firm believes enrollment will drop every year thereafter.

While overall PUSD enrollment is projected to decline in 10 years, the report forecasts a rise in the high school student population from 4,897 in the fall of 2016 to 4,960 in fall 2026, with peak enrollment at 5,214 in fall 2019.

Based on its projections, which were prepared with the help of city of Pleasanton planning staff, there is no need for any additional middle or high schools.

With $35 million in Measure I1 bond funding earmarked for construction of a new elementary school, the district could elect to add a school and adjust PUSD boundaries, build on the existing district-owned Neal property or add a new school in northern Pleasanton where existing elementary schools – Donlon, Fairlands and Walnut Grove – are impacted and expected to stay that way, the consulting firm said in its report.

If the district were to build on the Neal property, Davis Demographics added, it would likely have to make that school a "magnet" with special programming, such as dual immersion or science and technology, that would draw students district-wide.

While trustees acknowledged that the Neal property isn't in the most impacted part of the district, they said utilizing it would mean not having to purchase another site, saving money and time.

“We have that land there,” Arkin said. “I know it's not in the area we need it, but discussing our options of using that land sounds like the best thing.”

Tuesday night's discussion was the board's first extensive dialogue about a prospective Measure I1 bond project since Pleasanton voters passed the $270 million school facilities initiative in November.

Although elementary school student enrollment is projected to fall 3.5% in the next 10 years, trustees have pointed to the continued use of portables as a reason for the need for a new elementary school. The demographer's report also indicated that 11 total elementary schools will be needed once the district reaches maturity, the unknown point in time when all land zoned residential in Pleasanton will be built on.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the board formally voted on the elementary school item when in fact it gave consensus to direct staff to look at options for the Neal site. The Pleasanton Weekly regrets the error.

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