It's been 23 years since Sunol residents passed the 1999 school bond measure, which added more portables and helped expand the once only elementary school, to a K-8 school.
But now that residents are in the final years of paying those obligations off, stakeholders of the district are asking for another bond to address some big-ticket items like replacing roofs and updating the otherwise outdated school -- projects they say aren't feasible without bond funds.
"Still being a resident here I would hate to see this place just go to waste," said Mike Picard, president of the Sunol Glen Unified School District Board of Trustees. "I mean, it's so beautiful and now is our time to fix it up before it starts crumbling in front of our eyes."
Measure J is the $10.9 million general obligation bond that the district has placed on the Nov. 8 ballot. If more than 55% of Sunol residents vote in favor of Measure J, it would utilize a tax rate of $52.10 per $100,000 of assessed value for property owners to fund the different projects.
Sunol is the third school district in the Tri-Valley seeking to pass a bond in the amount of for facility repairs and upgrades. The other two school districts are Pleasanton, which is asking for $395 million in bond dollars, and Livermore, which is seeking $450 million.
The official Nov. 8 Measure J ballot statement will read:
"To improve the quality of education facilities; make safety and security improvements; renovate electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems; repair/replace leaky roofs; and construct a technology, engineering, and math lab; shall Sunol Glen Unified School District's measure be adopted authorizing the issuance of $10,900,000 of bonds at legal interest rates, generating on average $614,500 annually while bonds are outstanding, at rates of approximately 5.2 cents per $100 assessed value, with annual audits, citizens' oversight, and no money for salaries?"
During a walkthrough of the district's lone school, Sunol Glen School located near downtown Sunol, Picard told the Weekly that the school has been kept clean and well maintained throughout the years, which paints the picture that everything is alright. But he said that most of the issues lie in facilities' infrastructure, which hasn't been upgraded for decades.
Picard said if the bond passes, the school has a priority list of projects and will start with replacing the roofs of some of the older buildings like the main one and then will focus on making accessible ramps and entrances to the buildings and bathrooms.
"In the main building we're concerned with asbestos, lead paint, you know, things that were prevalent in those times," Picard said. "So when we start scratching the surface, that's why the estimate is so high. We might run into some problems, so we don't want to run out of money."
The school itself was built in 1925 and since then, things have been added and patched up along the way, but that has only acted as a bandage to the bigger problem for things like wood rot, seismic updates needs and outdated electrical and plumbing systems.
"The trouble is you just keep patching, patching, patching ... like the roof," said Lowell Hoxie, director of maintenance and operations for the district. "Yeah, we did a little section here, we did a little section there, but no, we need to take the roof off and just redo the whole thing."
Hoxie said it's been a while since he's known that the school has needed significant repairs like the ceiling felt in the main building which he said is about 40 to 50 years old -- he said the average lifespan of felt is 30 years.
"Just patching doesn't work ... you're just chasing leaks all the time," he said.
Apart from the plaster falling off the ceiling the bond money will aim to fund constructing more ADA-accessible entrances for the main building doors, the auditorium and the bathroom stalls and entrances.
Right now, there is no way for anyone in a wheelchair to get on the school's auditorium stage with access being limited to a small and narrow staircase and on top of that, the only ramp to get into the main building is at the back of the school.
"Whether it's my grandma who wants to come and watch my kids' graduation or we hire somebody who's got mobility issues or a kid who comes to school here has issues, it's not right," Picard said in regards to the lack of accessibility at the school.
Picard said the bond will also address the cafeteria, which doesn't have any up to code air vents or fire extinguishing system for the oven areas in the kitchen, meaning they can't really cook food in there.
Other big items in the bond list will be; upgrading the portables in the back of the school, one of which is 40 years old, according to Hoxie; improving the schools' overall safety with more fencing and better door locking hardware; and updating the fire sprinkler system -- the school currently has the exposed tubes running outside of the ceiling rather than inside.
But, much like the other school bonds in Alameda County, the bond is facing opposition from the local Libertarian Party.
Elizabeth Stump, vice chair of the Libertarian Party of Alameda County, signed the opposing statements to the bond that argue how residents shouldn't be forced to pay more taxes and that the district is providing vague reasons in the bond language as to why it needs the money.
"The Measure J in Sunol Glen fails to meet the most basic requirements of a Proposition 39 school bond," Stump told the Weekly. "The first requirement is that the school district draft a list of 'specific projects' for the bond before submitting the measure to the voters. The district drafted only a vague list which fails to include capital improvement projects."
She also said that most of the projects that the district has listed are minor repair projects that can be patched up and that asking for a multimillion-dollar bond through taxes is unnecessary.
"The proponents' arguments are misleading," Stump said. "They argue, 'The tax rate will not increase.' The tax rate might not increase but the tax amount of the residential property taxes will greatly increase to pay off the bond."
She also expressed concern over how the money will be spent and was untrusting of the school board keeping the money local.
However, Picard said that because residents are almost done paying off the previous 1999 bond, they will realistically see no change in the tax rate that they have already been paying for several years.
The district did attempt to pass a bond in March 2020, the $9.5 million Measure O, which Picard said was for the same repairs but it was also going to fund the construction of a new multipurpose room. Measure O earned a slight majority (50.56%) but fell short of the required 55% threshold among the 449 participating voters.
After taking some polls from residents in the wake of Measure O's defeat, Picard said officials found they did not want a multipurpose room and so the district decided to scale back and wait for the next election cycle so that it's easier to sell because of the fact that residents won't have to pay for two bonds at the same time.
"Measure J will not increase the current annual tax rate," according to the district website. "Instead, it will extend the old bond program that expires next year and will maintain the estimated tax rate that property owners are currently paying."
Picard said that any opposition to the bond comes from people who aren't part of the Sunol community and guaranteed that all the money will go to these projects that he said are well planned out and necessary to continue serving the community.
"If somebody needs something, we're neighbors, we help each other out," Picard said. "Our school is kind of at the center of our community. It's a place for the public to gather, it's a place for kids to come to school. All the kids from Sunol, who come here, they're owed from us, a safe place, a safe environment and the best learning experience they can have."