‘Old School’ site resurrection?

'Old School' site resurrection?

A ninth Gilroy elementary school is a must have and soon, district officials say and it very well may be built at the old Las Animas School site on Wren Avenue
– the site where the district tore down an existing school just last year.
A ninth Gilroy elementary school is a must have and soon, district officials say and it very well may be built at the old Las Animas School site on Wren Avenue – the site where the district tore down an existing school just last year.
That’s the only long-term option doable by the fall said Enrique Palacios, deputy superintendent of business services.
“The Wren Avenue site is good to go,” Palacios said. From a technical standpoint, it’s the best and cheapest option, he said. It’s available, zoned for a school and already owned by the district.
But trustees, most of whom who presided over the demolition of the old school, didn’t jump at the opportunity to build on Wren Avenue.
“It’s a wonderful site but there’s no growth happening in that neighborhood,” said Trustee Denise Apuzzo.
Large chunks of development are, however, planned elsewhere in the community, including the Glen Loma Ranch off Santa Teresa Boulevard, the Hecker Pass development near Goldsmith Seeds and the Oakcreek development at the corner of Monterey Road and Luchessa Avenue. If a school were built on Wren, the district would have to redraw its elementary school boundaries – a task several trustees groaned at – or establish an alternative enrollment program.
Since 2005, the district has grown by 368 elementary school-aged children, and some schools – like Rod Kelley and Las Animas, where teachers are holding classes in libraries and computer labs for lack of classroom space – are bursting at the seams. Rod Kelley grew by 78 students this year to 796. That’s the equivalent of nearly four classes. Though less dramatic, each elementary school except El Roble registered student increases.
One of the oldest schools in the district at the time, the old Las Animas School required more repairs than it was worth, district officials and trustees said, so the district tore it down and replaced it with a new school – also named Las Animas – in southwest Gilroy, where the town was growing. With Antonio del Buono only 0.7 miles to the north and Rod Kelley 0.6 miles to the west, it didn’t seem to make sense to rebuild the school at the old site, Trustee Rhoda Bress said.
“It wasn’t reasonable to repair the old school,” she said. “You reach a point when a new school costs less than repairing the old one. Plus, we had anticipated growth farther south. It was going to be knocked down anyway – the question at the time was whether to rebuild there or move to a different location.”
The district decided on the new location and the plot of land on Wren Avenue has been empty ever since.
“But times have changed,” Bress added. “Our economic situation has changed. At one point, we thought the district would benefit from developing that land but with the decline in the real estate market, it’s time to take a second look.”
The district has already spent upwards of $300,000 on developing plans for a 72-unit subdivision for that plot of land, hoping to double the value of the land before selling it, but a tepid housing market and a surge in enrollment curtailed the district’s aspirations of developing and opened their eyes to the reality of their predicament: too many children and no place to put them.
It’s not that the district wasn’t prepared for the jump in enrollment, said Roger Cornia, the district’s enrollment director. The district just didn’t have the funds to properly accommodate the growth at the beginning of the school year.
“We knew it was going to be extremely tight this year,” he said earlier this year, “and there’s no money to alter that.”
The recent passage of a $150 million facilities bond will jump-start new projects to accommodate that growth, like a new elementary school and the completion of Christopher High School, under construction at the corner of Santa Teresa Boulevard and Day Road in north Gilroy.
But whether to put a bandage on the problem by installing portables or come up with a long-term solution has yet to be determined. At a recent board meeting, trustees and officials discussed the pros and cons of several options.
Though alternatives were presented to the board, Palacios said the cost of purchasing and preparing new land could tack an extra $10 million on the estimated $20 million price tag for a new school.
The only negative Palacios associated with building on the Wren Avenue property was the loss of revenue the district would have gained by selling the property. Palacios estimated the district could have made about $10 million if they sold the site after developing it in a robust housing market.
Other options included:
n purchasing a 10-acre parcel of land elsewhere which would cost nearly $4 million given that the average cost per acre of land in Gilroy is about $370,000, according to Palacios
n building on a 4 to 5 acre property off Kern Avenue in north Gilroy used as a school farm
n building adjacent to either South Valley or Brownell middle schools – the district previously put the property near Brownell on the market but it never sold
n adding capacity at existing elementary schools
n building on a district-owned, yet undeveloped, property near Santa Teresa Boulevard and Miller Avenue donated by Don Christopher – a good option given future growth projections but one that would require extensive infrastructure development like roads and sewer connections
n or increasing class size ratios at the kindergarten through third grades.
“I will never vote for this one,” said Trustee Denise Apuzzo of the last option and newly sworn in Trustee Fred Tovar agreed that increasing class sizes was not an option.
For every student enrolled in a class with 20 students or fewer, the district receives $1,071 extra dollars, although the bonus is never enough to cover the costs of hiring additional teachers to support the program, Superintendent Deborah Flores said.
“It’s a very expensive endeavor but well worth it,” she said of class size reduction. “Early intervention counts so much.”
When asked when he would like to break ground on a new elementary school: “yesterday,” Palacios said with a laugh. “We would want to have it built by August so we would have to move very quickly.”
The board will continue the discussion at a Jan. 8 board meeting.
“There’s still a lot of investigation and due diligence left to do before we line up behind any one of these items,” Trustee Tom Bundros said.

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