Pleasanton Unified School District is considering scrapping plans for the planned new school for grades 4 and 5 at the Donlon Elementary site -- dubbed the "E-10" school -- and starting over with a newly developed alternative proposal to address overgrowth issues, following extensive discussion at the Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday night.
The change of direction comes a month after staff and the majority of school board members previously agreed the best course of action was building the E-10 school as planned and submitting project specifications to the Division of the State Architect for approval.
Known as "Option E," the newest alternative proposal would increase capacity at Lydiksen Elementary to accommodate expected growth increases in the district's enrollment area west of Interstate 680, as well as "rebalance" the five elementary sites in PUSD's northern area by making "slight boundary adjustments and some capacity increases" between four to six classrooms.
With the exception of Mohr Elementary, which would remain at its current capacity, about 700 to 800 students would be enrolled at each elementary school in the district.
Trustee Joan Laursen praised the new alternative, saying she was "really glad to see this additional option."
"Unfortunately, I think it's time; we need to actually look at boundary adjustments," Laursen said. "We do already know we have near-term growth at Stoneridge Mall because those things have been approved and are going to go forward."
The new option also calls for setting aside $35 million from future Measure I1 bond sales and using that money to build either a 10th elementary school or a K-8 school as part of a future East Pleasanton project, with land provided by the developer, district officials said.
One of PUSD's landmark projects, the E-10 school would be funded by the $270 million Measure I1 bond, whose project list included a new elementary school. The board-approved project called for splitting the existing Donlon property into separate campuses -- with the existing school reassigned to transitional kindergarten through third grade and a new 4-5 school being built on the other end of the site.
The board began reconsidering plans for E-10 school last spring and asked staff to take a closer look at the project, prompted by enrollment growth that hadn't developed as expected when the new campus was first planned.
Assistant superintendent of business services Ahmad Sheikholeslami told the board that the new plan "would take us for the next at least four to five years, so we'd be in good shapes in terms of capacity."
"The monies we set aside for that, with the land and the developer fee, would then provide the district enough funds to build either a full K-5 or even potentially a K-8 school," Sheikholeslami said.
Laursen later added, "It does mean people are going to say you spent money on the design of the (E-10) school. That is true, but we also planned for some of that, for the money to be spent on the process of planning for that school."
One audience member who phoned in to the board meeting Thursday evening said the E-10 project was over-budget and problematic, including a lack of visitor parking in the area and no plans for street improvements.
"It became an extremely tight site with E-10 and Donlon sharing a football sized field for their playground," Kendra Mayott said. "E-10 was not the best solution. It was the best solution for the time, for two years ago, and Pleasanton has already changed, so please consider these things as you look at these options."
Trustee Valerie Arkin asked if it would be a viable option "to just put it on hold for, say, a year or possibly two years."
Sheikholeslami replied, "We did look at that and the reason we didn't bring that forward, we felt like the board's desire was to proceed and build, and proceeding at this moment forward would be the best in terms of costs of the project."
Noting that construction costs typically increase every year and the current bid market is good, "if we were to take advantage of that, by the time these projects came out of DSA, that would be helpful," Sheikholeslami added. "If we delayed it, we could even see construction costs that are higher, especially in that two year time frame. Especially if we didn't submit it to DSA, that would even further delay the project."
Superintendent David Haglund said, "I think that's really specific to the growth near Stoneridge Mall, because that won't get put on hold, so we'll have a capacity issue that we'll need to be ready to deal with."
Arkin said putting E-10 on hold made sense because "we've seen a decline in enrollment right now … some of it's got to be COVID-related, in my mind. At some point, enrollment could increase again."
Option E "does recognize that we need some capacity increases, especially at Lydiksen," Sheikholeslami said. "The other issue is the rebalancing of the schools. We're imbalanced, so if Donlon was built and all the kids in Donlon area attended Donlon, you would now have a Mohr, or an Alisal, or others really drawn down in enrollment. It's kind of looking at that and trying to solve some of the issues with trying to modify the boundaries."
Board President Steve Maher stated, "If we put it on hold, the costs don't go on hold; they keep escalating, unfortunately. So in two years it could be another $15 million. It'll keep going up and won't be going down."
District staff confirmed construction costs do rise year to year, normally 3% to 4% per year, but those increases are harder to predict with the current global economy and COVID pandemic.
Hearing that, Maher said, "And I'm not sure where we'd get that money."
Maher also asked whether the additional money used to increase Lydiksen enrollment or other sites would be Measure I1 revenue.
Sheikholeslami confirmed that "a portion may be" and said the district is currently pulling from developer fees and its "Fund 40."
"We'd basically look at all our funding and all the project scopes, and bring back an updated implementation and budget plan which would include Measure I1 dollars and those two other funds … but would make sure of the Measure I1, that $35 million set aside from future bond sales for that new elementary school that we've discussed," Sheikholeslami said.
What Arkin said she didn't like about the new alternative option "is that it looks like our existing schools are just going to get a lot bigger, which I've always been against. The impact to the students at the schools, not to even talk about increased traffic around neighborhoods."
Instead, she suggested "maybe look at the facility master plan again and do another update. That would be something to do in the near future along with the demographer update."
With the city's help, the district could negotiate a school as part of an East Pleasanton development project, according to Arkin -- who is in one of her final PUSD meetings after her election to the City Council this month.
"I think the $35 million we have in our bond really should be helping the northwest area of our city, where we're having the overflow issues and where we're having the most impact with enrollment right now," Arkin said. "COVID has changed a lot of things; increasing capacity right now, it sounds like we don't really have to do that right now. That's why I thought putting it on hold … that made the most sense to me."
Arkin added, "If I had to say, I would say continue as planned and build E-10. I understand the other alternatives … I just think it's not going with what the voters approved here."
Trustee Jamie Yee pointed out that the board "promised the community an elementary school, but it doesn't really work out now as much because we don't have the money to build it, to run it."
"That's the biggest problem with going forward with E-10, and while it does give us classrooms where we need it, we also need classrooms at Lydiksen," said Yee, who will soon be stepping off the school board after losing her re-election bid this month.
Yee continued, "I don't believe we should build a school and put the district in financial jeopardy, that doesn't really make sense to me" before concluding "Option E probably hits most of the concerns that we have … while still thinking into the future."
Trustee Mark Miller said Arkin made "a really good point around the Facility Master Plan."
"My recollection with the Facilities Master Plan is our No. 1 goal with elementary school students was the neighborhood school -- that was the thing we were really looking for," Miller said. "I feel like Option E best addresses the neighborhood school. With E-10, you'd have people coming across the freeway from Stoneridge Mall to go there, and I don't know if that's a great idea."
Miller also agreed "it's going to be the cheapest option, and if we can act quickly on that."
However, based on his conversations with a city liaison, Miller said "(a developer) might be able to give us the land if they have the proper density … but other than developer fees, they're not going to pay for a new school."
PUSD staff will look further into Option E and reverse its plans to submit E-10 plans to the DSA for consideration, per board direction Thursday evening.