After months of planning and discussions, the Pleasanton Unified school board is expected to make a final decision on how to best address increasing enrollment in the northern part of the city, during a workshop Tuesday night.
Though the meeting is billed as a facilities workshop and update on Measure I1 projects underway, the main item of the night is the enrollment solution -- namely, how to hold the increasing number of students flowing into the northern region of Pleasanton, which primarily affects Donlon Elementary School and Hart Middle School.
The PUSD administration and Board Facility Subcommittee are recommending that the district move forward with constructing a new fourth- and fifth-grade school on the Donlon property, located within the Val Vista neighborhood, while converting the existing building into a TK-3 school and then placing any capacity expansion planning work at Hart on hold until middle school science lab improvements have begun.
The total cost of this option is expected to come out to $61.25 million.
“Thank you to the staff, families, and community members who engaged in this process to provide input,” Superintendent David Haglund said in a statement in advance of the meeting. “I would also like to thank our partners at the City of Pleasanton who have worked collaboratively as we’ve discussed the various benefits and hurdles with each design concept, including our shared goal to include traffic mitigation as a component in any solution. Our community’s input has helped to clarify priorities and inform discussions as we have studied, weighed and narrowed down the options being considered over the last several months.”
Various options involving schools district-wide were considered throughout the process, but the most recent ones revolve around Donlon and Hart, the elementary and middle schools with the greatest number of student overflows, respectively.
Overflow happens when too many students are enrolled in a given class -- some are moved to another school.
However, overflow varies grade-wise: an elementary school might have an overload of third-graders but have space in first-grade classes, leading to a sort of student shuffle amongst the different campuses. This isn’t an ideal situation, though, as overflow might result in students from the same family going to different schools, disrupting the goal of sending students to their neighborhood schools.
Donlon’s overflow numbers especially shot up last school year, according to the district’s enrollment trend data. In the 2016-17 school year, the elementary school saw an overflow of 14 students, while in 2017-18, although Donlon’s overall enrollment decreased from 824 to 814, 99 students were overflowed.
And this year, as of Dec. 3, 124 Donlon students and 29 Hart students were overflowed -- the first time in several years that a PUSD middle school has seen overflow.
At least one new elementary school is on the district’s horizon in years to come. Demographers predict that by the time the city of Pleasanton reaches maturity (when all potential residential units are “built-out”) there will be 7,927 elementary students enrolled in PUSD. Based on the district’s 700-student campus size limit, at that point in time, there would need to be a total of 11 elementary schools -- two more than currently exist.
District staff looked into a variety of solutions over the last few months, including adjusting school boundaries, building a new elementary school, implementing a K-8 school configuration, and increasing the capacity within existing school configurations.
But the narrowed-down options for Tuesday night are more specific and construction-oriented: creating K-8 schools at Donlon and Hart, for an estimated project cost of $97.45 million; expanding the capacity of Donlon, to create a larger K-5 school, for an estimated $45.39 million; and the recommended option of building a new fourth- and fifth-grade school on Donlon property.
While they are also looking into increasing the school capacity at Hart, the staff and subcommittee recommendation is to place any such planning work at the middle school on hold until improvements on the school’s science labs have begun. The science lab and portable replacement project at Hart is estimated to cost a total of $25.53 million, with about $10 million of Measure I1 funds allocated toward the project.
The proposed design for the Donlon property has the new school along the Denker Drive edge of the campus, fronted by a 118-car parking lot. Additional proposed traffic mitigation also place a new 64-car parking lot and additional drop-off zone at the northeast corner along Dorman Road.
The study group members consisted of PUSD administrators and officials, consultants from the project’s designers Aedis Architects and officials from the city of Pleasanton. Before arriving at their present recommendation, the administration and subcommittee looked at data and input gathered from surveys community meetings and a traffic study, according to staff -- looking at pragmatic realities such as cost escalation, family impact, the complexity and speed of implementation, along with aspirational goals and priorities such as maintaining neighborhood schools, school size guidelines and being flexible for future needs.
Pleasanton city officials told the district they are supportive of the recommended split-school option, from a traffic circulation perspective.
“From the standpoint of offering the best circulation option for student drop-off and pick-up, as well as most efficient circulation alternative for the surrounding neighborhood, the City is most supportive of the TK-3 and 4/5 option,” City Manager Nelson Fialho wrote in a statement.
Fialho cited circulation studies conducted by the city and Hexagon Transportation Consultants as support for their recommendation for the split school option.
“This configuration separates Donlon into two schools which disperses the traffic impact between Dorman Road and Payne Road/Denker Drive,” he said. “The existing south parking lots and loading and queueing lane will remain. Two new parking lots with loading/unloading lanes are proposed which will improve traffic circulation.”
If trustees approve the recommended option, next steps include having staff come back to the board in January with a financing plan, with construction anticipated to begin during the 2020-21 school year, to conclude during the 2022-23 school year.
Also on the table during the Tuesday workshop, the board will receive an update on Measure I1 projects underway, including the Lydiksen Elementary School modernization project, and the portable replacement and science classroom upgrades at Foothill and Amador Valley high schools.
The meeting is scheduled to take place from 6-9 p.m. at the district office board room, 4665 Bernal Ave.