Donlon Elementary parents and neighborhood residents recently held a rally to appeal to the school district and raise awareness among the community about their desire to retain all of the large green space and play area at the campus that is being considered as an option for potential new housing.
The April 24 event at Val Vista Park, across the street from the backside of the campus, was organized by a group of concerned parents like Colleen Hake hoping to save the 8.3-acre Donlon field as green space for the elementary students to play and achieve optimal development in their youth, as well as for community use outside of school hours.
"There's scientific evidence that the benefits of green space for the mental, physical and emotional health of children is significant," Hake told the Weekly.
"I think that an important part of our event was just raising awareness that it is on the (city) Housing Element list," she added.
The Donlon Elementary field was among nearly two-dozen properties across Pleasanton included on the short list for environmental review in the city's Regional Housing Needs Allocation sites inventory list for potential residential development. The ultimate inventory list will be approved as part of the city's Housing Element update finalization process.
Patrick Gannon, spokesman for the Pleasanton Unified School District, noted the concept of converting part of the Donlon field into housing is in the very early stages and could take years to materialize. The district would need to sell the land for any development to take place, and the proposal would need to go through public processes at the district and city levels.
The topic will be discussed as part of a special PUSD Board of Trustees meeting on the district's Facilities Master Plan scheduled for May 19.
"As always, we encourage families and community members to learn more by watching and participating in these meetings as all conversations around use of District property happen publicly to allow community engagement," Gannon said.
"Right now, we're more focused on providing Donlon students access to green space, which is what the parents and the Donlon community have asked us to do. So we are happy to be doing that for the Donlon students," he added, referring to adjustments being contemplated to the new fencing at the campus.
PUSD trustees Steve Maher and Kelly Mokashi, along with city Mayor Karla Brown, were among those in attendance at the April 24 event at Val Vista, and they each spent time and interacted with the crowd, according to Hake.
"They talked to so many community members on (that) Sunday, and everyone really let them know their thoughts about what is going on in our part of Pleasanton," Hake said.
The participation feedback was overwhelmingly positive, according to Hake, a mother of two and former NASA engineer and Air Force veteran.
Preparation for the community event started a few months ago with the distribution of fliers throughout the neighborhood, but even so, the organizing group of parents was surprised by the turnout of approximately 300 people, Hake said.
Including the awareness angle, the event featured games for kids where Robots supplied treats to children including raffles, according to Hake. Community members showed support by donating products for the event for the raffle prizes.
One concern of Donlon Elementary parents is that the kids will lose their play area and will be forced to play on black tops, which could cause more injuries in falls and pose overheating issues on hot days, compared to the grass field, according to Hake. They also expressed concerns about the accessibility of the field, for students and the community, in light of a new security fence installed by the district in the past year.
Gannon told the Weekly the district plans to relocate the fence that currently sits between the Donlon blacktop and field to create an accessible green space for the school community to utilize. This new, enclosed green space would provide at least 3 acres -- larger than two football fields -- that will be easier for the school to supervise students safely, he said.
"We're moving it, so a portion of the existing field would be fenced in as part of the school and connected to the blacktop," Gannon said. "It would be the area minus the 5.5 acres that is potentially being considered (for future residential use)."
A key issue with the 8.3-acre Donlon field "is that it is too large and the school can't reasonably provide adequate supervision to allow students to play on the field safely," according to Gannon, who noted that the result is the area would then sit there largely unused by the district.
The large ground would require supervision, and according to Gannon, the school's request for parent volunteers hasn't received enough response. (After publication of this story, Gannon clarified that the call put out to parents was part of recruitment for a paid noon supervisor position, not for volunteers.)
"So my question to the parents who want the entire field is, what are you doing to ensure (safety)? It doesn't seem that they're stepping up so their children can use the field during the day," Gannon said in his original interview.
Donlon Elementary School is tucked in the Val Vista neighborhood northwest of the intersection of West Las Positas Boulevard and Hopyard Road. The front of the school is on Dorman Road, but the portion under debate is the field on the backside of the campus along Denker Drive and Payne Road.
Editor's notes: This story has been updated after PUSD spokesman Patrick Gannon reached out to clarify that the school had encouraged parents to apply for the open noon supervisor position, "a role that supports students' ability to utilize the field. While students currently are provided regular access to the field, the school is still encouraging interested qualified individuals to apply for this position, and not volunteer as previously stated."
Additionally, a previous version of this story listed an incorrect branch for resident Colleen Hake's military service. She served in the U.S. Air Force. The Weekly regrets the error.