There are two kinds of people in this world -- those who complain while not offering a solution to the problem, and those who look at situation and figure out what can be done to fix the problem.
Todd Utikal, and the "We Are Pleasanton" group he has put together, are firmly entrenched in the latter.
Utikal, his wife and two daughters live in Pleasanton, with one daughter in fourth grade at Walnut Grove Elementary School and the other in seventh grade at Harvest Park Middle School.
The longtime Pleasanton Rotarian and the owner of the SideTrack Bar + Grill in downtown was a supporter of Measure M in the primary election, a bond measure that was earmarked to provide funds for improvements in the Pleasanton Unified School District.
The bond was defeated in March, but the problem of much-needed improvements for Pleasanton schools remained.
"I just wanted the focus to be -- let's do something," he explained. "I want the community to see we can accomplish projects if we work together."
Utikal began burning up the phone lines, talking with PUSD Superintendent David Haglund, as well as parents of students, with the goal to find the projects that needed the most attention.
Once he had a list of projects, Utikal put together We Are Pleasanton, a growing community group featuring several prominent Pleasanton residents.
"I'm not good at a lot of stuff, but I can put the right people in the same room," Utikal said.
One of the community leaders involved is John Sensiba, a well-known local businessman and civic and nonprofit volunteer.
"Todd called me and asked me to be involved," Sensiba said. "We have been involved in Rotary for a while, and when he told me of the plan, how do you say no to that?"
Sensiba also acknowledged "We Are Pleasanton" embraces what has made Pleasanton great.
"It's consistent with the modern leaders," Sensiba added. "People like Ken Mercer are what I think of modern leaders of Pleasanton. (We Are Pleasanton) captures the spirit of those leaders."
Utikal went out and got companies like Gates and Associates to produce renderings at no cost for potential school projects.
The first round of projects have been identified as a shade area for the quad at Amador Valley High School, as well as replacing the fields at both Pleasanton and Hart middle schools with synthetic, all-weather fields.
PUSD has stepped up too, matching $27,500 for the Amador shade structure, with another $500,000 set aside for the field projects -- $350,000 to Pleasanton Middle and $150,000 toward Hart.
The district is also working to make sure the projects are in line to get the final approval from the Division of the State Architect in Sacramento.
"It is a blessing to have people in the community step up -- to have the energy like Todd," Haglund said. "We have funds we can use for these projects, but not sufficient funds to do the whole project. Having groups with funds allows us to work and use our funds."
Ahmad Sheikholeslami, assistant superintendent of business services, came to Pleasanton just a year ago from Menlo Park where he had been for 13 years. He has been working hard along with Utikal to make the plans become a reality.
"We are just trying to take care of business and do it the right way," Sheikholeslami said. "Not only will the fields give us playing space year-round, but it is a big support for our maintenance operation."
An additional $27,500 is coming from the leadership class at Amador, with matching funds coming from the Walker Family Trust, as well as a $3,000 donation coming from the Pleasanton Rotary Club.
"That the kids stepped up from Amador with the funds -- it's telling a Pleasanton story," Haglund said.
"(Utikal) came up with the plan to improve the schools around Pleasanton, and it was something we had to jump on," said Noah Marek, a senior at Amador and part of the leadership team for the Dons. "It's been kind of a free-for-all at lunch as there are only five to six tables bunched together under the trees."
We Are Pleasanton currently sits at $90,000 of the $225,000 needed for the shade structure at Amador.
"We hope to have all the funding for the shade structure by the end of the year," Utikal said. "The fields would then be next."
"This is showing you have a commitment from the community and the school district," added Sheikholeslami.
First in line is the much-needed shade project for the Amador lunch area.
"It's huge," Amador principal Josh Butterfield said. "The way our quad sits now, the tables are bunched together under trees trying to get some shade. The shade structure is not simply great for the students, but it will also help us create a much safer environment by having the tables spaced out."
Butterfield and Foothill principal Sebastian Bull said they are amazed by and thankful for We Are Pleasanton as well as the synergy between PUSD and the group.
"Todd's been leading the charge," Butterfield said of Utikal. "It's a testament to the type of community we have with the people that are involved."
Bull said he is excited for what the future holds with the We Are Pleasanton and PUSD partnership. Foothill could be looking at a new performing arts theater, as well as renovation of the press box.
"It's pretty cool," Bull said of the group. "Ever since Ahmad has come on, he's been awesome. He's a hard worker and things are happening."
Once the shade project funding is fully secured, the attention turns to the two field renovations/replacement, which Utikal estimates at $4 million to $5 million for each field.
While Hart's field is technically usable, Pleasanton Middle School's is much more precarious.
When the construction of Patelco Park on Bernal took place, it forced the ground squirrels toward Pleasanton Middle -- and the result is obvious, with the ground giving way under foot in certain areas of the school's field
Look at the rendering, and it is a sight to behold.
When done, Pleasanton Middle will have three baseball/softball fields, a 400-meter all-weather track with a regulation soccer field in the middle of the track and a cricket pitch. There are also plans in the works for seating.
The project at Hart will include an expanded parking lot, as well as a synthetic-field, a cricket pitch, baseball backstops, short fields for soccer, as well as room for other sports.
And most importantly for many users -- the new Hart sports fields will include lights. The townhouses across the street have it written into their homeowners association that lights would be permissible at Hart.
The energy and drive Utikal's brought with We Are Pleasanton has rubbed off on the students.
Marek and other leadership students at Amador are looking into forming a We Are Pleasanton high school affiliate that would work with the parent group to define improvements.
"In reality, the construction may not begin before I leave," Marek said. "But it feels good to leave something for others when you have gotten so much out of something, like we've gotten from Amador."
Moving forward Utikal is forming a steering committee that will prioritize needs for the schools. Sensiba, Joe Cristiano, Kelly French, Steve McCoy-Thompson, Bryan Gillette, Haglund, Sheikholeslami and Utikal would comprise the main steering committee.
They would be joined by more than 20 others in the community -- teachers, parents, students and people in our community who just want to help the kids and our schools.
The nonprofit Pleasanton Partnerships in Education has created an account for the projects.
"PPIE is happy to serve as a conduit for the funds raised for this effort," said McCoy-Thompson, executive director of PPIE. "We have established a separate account, so the funds raised are not co-mingled and are allocated responsibly. We are also inspired by the contribution of the Amador Valley ASB for initiating the matching funds to build needed shade structures for our students."
For more information for We Are Pleasanton, reach out to Utikal either by phone at 925-413-3207 or via email at [email protected] The donation page for the Amador shade structure project is accessible here.