How to spend bond money | October 8, 2021 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - October 8, 2021

How to spend bond money

Emerald High allocations highlight rift in Dublin community as some say older schools are being overlooked

by By Julia Baum

Several aging schools at Dublin Unified School District will be getting facelifts after the Board of Trustees recently approved millions of dollars for various upgrades.

But many parents said they are still upset as a longstanding community rift reemerged during the process to secure more funding and worry about much-needed repairs and projects that have been promised at their children's schools being compromised in order to complete the new Emerald High School.

Last month, a group of parents and students rallied outside Dublin Elementary School, where $33 million of Measure H funding ($4.8 million and $28.1 million, respectively) for facilities upgrades was ultimately left intact by the board.

Parent Christina Mordoff told the Weekly that it was "the $33 million we'd been asking for," but said "it's also not nearly enough for what the school truly needs."

District documents list an extensive number of renovations that are needed at Dublin Elementary including upgrading site technology, relocating Extended Day Child Care and adjusting parking and drop off areas, building 23 new classrooms for preschool, kindergarten and elementary grades, and either building a new multipurpose room (MPR) or remodeling the existing one.

Currently "no plan allows for the $10 million" that was suggested potentially be set aside from Measure J funding for Dublin Elementary, should the school need more than the $33 million originally approved in December 2019, according to the district.

However an additional $115 million of funding, including $97 million from Measure J bond revenue, was approved for the under-construction Emerald High at the Aug. 24 board meeting, bringing the total of allocated money to $282 million for the highest-priority DUSD project in the eyes of many East Dublin residents and community leaders.

Parent Kristin Speck and others said "it certainly seems like we get cut quite often" in favor of the district's planned second comprehensive high school, which is expected to accommodate approximately 2,500 students when construction is fully completed.

Simi Gaur, who has two children enrolled at Dublin Elementary, said in an interview that the district needs a new high school, but "it can't be at the expense of everybody else."

When it comes to how much Measure J revenue is spent on Emerald, "there should be a limit, wants vs. needs," Gaur said. "They're siphoning money from Dublin Elementary and saying they need a new parking garage. How much money does this school need? That's a huge, colossal amount of money. I don't know why it's costing that much."

Gaur described her children's school as being unsafe with broken air conditioners, electrical problems, uneven ground, and mold and corrosion in different areas. District documents presented at a Sept. 10 town hall meeting also noted roof leaks and collapses in Building B around two years ago, around the time asbestos was discovered in the MPR teacher lounge.

"They need repairs, there's wear and tear on the buildings," Gaur added. "They're just old buildings so of course they're going to have maintenance issues that you can't keep putting Band-Aids on. If at 60 years old they can't give us the money to fix the roof, why are newer schools getting newer facilities? The problem is why are you pouring money into the schools that don't need it."

Speck said a 3-2 board vote last month that approved just $5 million for completing an MPR at Murray Elementary School is another "sad story" highlighting how primary schools are being financially shorted to build Emerald. Work at Murray includes a new MPR and converting the existing one to a library and office space, along with adding portables for administrative offices, as well as a couple of play structures and partial hardscaping.

"To have so many parents call in and get only $5 million, for that amount to pass is a shame," Speck said. "Their administration building, it's just going to be portable buildings because they couldn't find $5 million for Murray Elementary."

Despite a number of alternative options that were presented, Speck said it was "very sad" the board couldn't figure out another solution.

DUSD Trustee Kristin Pelham told the Weekly that out of the six plans brought to the board last month, the one selected "was the most balanced in terms of the entire district."

"I think we're just moving forward now with more realistic numbers," Pelham said. "None of the projects are fully funded at this point in time, but it was the best compromise to move everything forward."

Pelham added that she feels "like things are in a better place all around. At this point we've set money aside for the facilities master plan we're working on," which is expected to be presented to the board some time next month.

With "a large portion of the Murray work complete, and funding in place for Phase II" of Emerald High, Superintendent Chris Funk said in a statement that "we don't see the two projects ... interfering with each other."

Funk also said the Facilities Master Plan "will help guide the district for the foreseeable future" and should help guarantee equitable investment in all DUSD sites.

"The consultant leading the project engaged with various stakeholder groups, reviewed current facilities, district finances and growth projections to create what will be an unbiased look at our needs," Funk said.

A $184 million shortfall in the bond facilities budget discovered earlier this year triggered an audit report that is expected to be completed in November, according to district officials, though when exactly it will be released is still to be determined by the board.

In August, the board approved the first sale of $116 million of bonds from Measure J, which was approved by Dublin voters in the March 2020 election. Net proceeds will go toward technology infrastructure projects throughout the district, as well as completion of Phase 1 at Emerald. Officials said the sales "will also allow the district to begin work on Phase 2 of the school," which is expected to begin construction in about two years.

Classes at Emerald could begin as early as fall 2022; when finished, the school will have two academic towers, a library, gym, student union, administrative and maintenance buildings, and athletic facilities including a football field with stadium bleachers, concession stands and a pressbox, among other amenities.


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