New school recommendation on table for PUSD

Staff looking to build new 4-5 school on Donlon site, turn existing building into TK-3

The proposed new school on the Donlon Elementary property (left) would be for fourth- and fifth-grade students, while the existing building (right) would be converted into a K-3. This rendering includes parking designed with additional proposed traffic mitigation. (Image courtesy of PUSD)

After months of surveys, community input meetings and multi-agency studies, Pleasanton Unified staff have settled on an official recommendation for dealing with enrollment growth in the northern part of the city, which was presented and discussed at Tuesday night’s regular school board meeting.

The discussion and presentation came a week before the board is set to hold a workshop on the capacity issues, at which time the district hopes to arrive at a decision. While various options and configurations have been considered, the recommendation put forward is to build a new school on the site of Donlon Elementary School.

“There’s no other option for this growth that’s really feasible, other than using the Donlon property...There’s a lot of mitigations that need to happen to make it happen, but that is the only option we can really focus on,” said Trustee Mark Miller, who sat on the Feasibility Study Group for this project, along with newly appointed Board President Valerie Arkin.

No action was taken, as this was more of an informational preview of what the Feasibility Study Group -- which consisted of administrators and officials from both PUSD and the city of Pleasanton -- had been debating over the past few months.

Though not specified by staff during the meeting, the agenda for next week’s workshop (posted about an hour after the conclusion of the meeting) clarifies that with the new school option, Donlon’s existing building would be converted into a K-3, while the new school would be for fourth and fifth grade students.

The total estimated project cost is $61.25 million -- mostly for the new school’s construction, but the estimate also includes $6.34 million for traffic mitigation and $0.38 million for improvements to the existing Donlon school. The projected enrollment for the TK-3 is 700 students, while the new 4-5 school is expected to see 500, according to staff.

The need to expand capacity is due to rising enrollment in the northern part of Pleasanton, a trend seen recently and projected to continue for at least five years.

According to district demographers, the area is expected to see a peak enrollment of almost 2,900 students in 2023, an increase of about 460 students from fall 2017. On the other hand, southern schools’ enrollment levels are expected to remain stable or even decrease.

Donlon and its eastern neighbor Hart Middle School are two of the schools primarily affected, and so solutions discussed revolved heavily around these sites. In their recommendation, though, staff have also proposed halting work on Hart Middle School options until work has begun on the school’s science lab improvements.

Deputy superintendent of business services Micaela Ochoa, who presented the item Tuesday night, emphasized that much more detail on the recommendation would be revealed later in the week when the agenda for the board workshop is posted online. That meeting is set for next Tuesday (Dec. 18).

Donlon neighbor Audrey Purnell was the first of three public speakers to come forward. She expressed the concern that the new school would further exacerbate traffic congestion for the surrounding neighborhood.

“I’m just going to tell you, it’s a traffic nightmare for us that live in Val Vista,” Purnell said.

She added that neighbors such as herself really needed to be included in the conversation.

“It’s more than an inconvenience,” she said. “This change, it affects the quality of our life, it’s stressful. It’s twice a day for 285 days a year.”

Melissa Schussel, a fifth grade Donlon teacher, came forward to advocate for teachers’ input to be solicited, adding that the October “staff presentation” referenced by Ochoa earlier didn’t adequately flush out the sketches on the table, and that November was the first time she had heard of the split school option.

“I want to be a part of the solution, I want to have input, say, what can we do to fix this, because we know it is a concern for everybody,” Schussel said. “But we need people to come and talk to us.”

She also said that some of the dates selected for these discussions collided with teachers’ conference weeks and other busy times -- including next week’s workshop.

The newly appointed Board Vice President Steve Maher agreed with Schussel’s points on teachers being consulted in this process, adding that there also needed to be more even representation from the various school sectors and grade levels.

“Everyone needs to be represented, kindergarten and fifth grade,” Maher said. “Kindergarten needs are different than fifth grade needs. Same with third grade. Same with our counselors, psychologists.”

Other options that had been on the table included adjusting school boundaries, building a new elementary school, converting Donlon and/or Hart into a K-8, and increasing enrollment capacities by expanding select school sites.

Next week’s board workshop is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. in the district office board room, 4665 Bernal Ave.

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