The Pleasanton Unified school board voted unanimously to move forward with building a second campus on the Donlon Elementary School property Tuesday night at the end of a nearly three-hour-long facilities workshop.
The long-planned meeting on how to address increasing enrollment and capacity issues in northern Pleasanton was well-attended by the community. Trustees chose the staff recommendation out of three options presented, which all involved Donlon, located in the Val Vista neighborhood, and its eastern neighbor Hart Middle School.
"I think we've come up with something," Board President Valerie Arkin said. "There is available land on Donlon. Donlon is our school that has that parcel of land large enough to build the two schools. I don't think it's ideal at all, but I think it really could work and it could work as two schools."
The new school on the Donlon property will be designated for fourth- and fifth-grade students, while the existing campus will be converted into a TK-3 school. Additionally, any capacity expansion planning work at Hart will be put on hold until middle school science lab improvements have started.
The split-school Donlon option is expected to cost the district about $61.25 million.
District staff looked into various possible solutions over the past few months, including adjusting school boundaries, building a new elementary school, implementing a K-8 school configuration and increasing school capacities. And while earlier possibilities considered involved other PUSD sites as well, the narrowed-down options presented Tuesday revolved around Donlon and Hart, the elementary and middle schools with the greatest number of student overflows, respectively.
This year, as of Dec. 3, 124 Donlon students and 29 Hart students were overflowed -- meaning that there were too many children in a given grade, leading to some students being sent to another campus, not their neighborhood school. Last year, Donlon saw an overflow of 99, up from only 14 in 2016-17.
Hart, in contrast, saw 29 students overflowed this year, the first time in several years that any district middle school has seen overflow.
Students moved to another school, however, can vary by age -- one elementary may have an excessive number of fourth-graders but a shortage of second-grade students, for example.
"When we think about the boundaries, the unfortunate thing is by grade level, it's not equal," said Ed Diolazo, assistant superintendent of student support services. "They're not equal buckets in our first-grade level, second-grade level, third-grade level, at the high school. We have bubbles ... for lack of a better word. Some of our grade levels are just bigger than others."
Class size reduction in recent years, he said, also has led to overflow.
Aside from the fact voters approved a new elementary school as part of the Measure I1 facilities bond in 2016, enrollment projections indicate that a new school or two may be necessary in coming years.
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.
Besides the new fourth- and fifth-grade school option, staff also presented the possibilities of creating K-8 schools at Donlon and Hart, along with expanding the capacity of Donlon to forge a larger K-5 school.
The K-8 configuration would necessarily involve both campuses, due to the student population each would require, with a projected enrollment of 1,200 students at Donlon and 1,500 at Hart.
However, the price-tag of this option came out to an estimated $97.45 million -- not a feasible amount, according to Superintendent David Haglund.
"Once we knew that the K-8 model was not a feasible solution, it broke the plan, so to speak, so we didn't have to do both (schools)," he said. "We could do one without the other."
The larger K-5 school, with an estimated enrollment of 1,200, would be the cheapest option at around $45.39 million. But the large size of such a school would go against board direction to maintain 700-student capacity limits.
The third option that will now move forward currently has the new school situated along the Denker Drive edge of the campus, fronted by a 118-car parking lot. Additional proposed traffic mitigation would also place a new 64-car parking lot and additional drop-off zone at the northeast corner along Dorman Road.
The $61.25 million project cost includes $54.53 million from Measure I1 funds to construct the new school, $380,000 to convert the existing Donlon building into a TK-3 and $6.34 million for additional traffic mitigation. Ongoing expenditures for administrative and operational costs, said deputy superintendent of business services Micaela Ochoa, would have to come from the general fund as opposed to dollars from the Measure I1 facilities bond.
Considerations on increasing Hart's capacity will be placed on hold until middle school science lab improvements have begun.
After the presentation's conclusion, Board Vice President Steve Maher asked why enrollment boundary adjustments were not on the table any more, a question echoed later by community members as well.
"Because enrollment is a moving target ... it can change every year," Diolazo said. "And so when we look at boundary adjustments today, and into the future, it really will not address the projected long-term growth of the district."
Twelve community members spoke during the public comments period of the meeting, largely to express traffic and safety concerns, discontent with outreach in advance of the workshop and a general sense that the Val Vista neighborhood was bearing the brunt of the enrollment influx.
"Our neighborhoods, all three of those neighborhoods -- the high-density housing, Valley Trails, Val Vista -- we are the most affordable neighborhoods across Pleasanton, and that's why families are flocking there, because they want the schools but it's what they can afford," Cynthia Sandhu said. "And it's not fair that now they're not getting the school that they deserve. That we're having to suffer the burden of adding more and more and more to us."
Several felt that the mailer sent out by the district last week on Friday wasn't adequate notice, and traffic safety featured as a prominent concern as well, with parents expounding upon the existing dangers, and inability of their children to walk to school.
"Our neighborhood is a small neighborhood, these roads are 50 years old," Andra Rogers said. "They are not huge roads. They are not meant to have as many kids as we have now, much less 400 more kids."
However, city of Pleasanton officials had conducted traffic and circulation studies beforehand, and cited circulation as the reason they also were supportive of the TK-3/4-5 recommendation, among PUSD's other options.
"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.
He added, "This configuration separates Donlon into two schools which disperses the traffic impact between Dorman Road and Payne Road/Denker Drive. 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."
Before taking a final vote, trustees amended their motion to include some of the ideas put forward by community members during public comments, to ensure that conversations surrounding additional crossing guards, police presence and buses be discussed as work continues.
"A lot of the uncertainty and fear about the loss of the community that you currently enjoy at Donlon, I think can be addressed in the programmatic design phases," Trustee Joan Laursen said.
Now that the option has been settled upon, staff are expected to return to the board in January with a financing plan for the project. Construction is anticipated to begin during the 2020-21 school year and conclude in the 2022-23 year.