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June 19, 2021

Broke, district mulls portables at CHS

After burning through construction funds faster than
anticipated, the school district will consider finishing off
Christopher High School with 36 portables instead of the $17
million permanent classroom wing the district originally planned to
build.
After burning through construction funds faster than anticipated, the school district will consider finishing off Christopher High School with 36 portables instead of the permanent classroom wing the district originally planned to build to save $3.6 million.

“The district has come to us and told us we’ve run out of money,” said trustee Mark Good, who was expected to join his fellow board members in a study session Thursday night to discuss the future of CHS.

Of Measure P, the $150 million school facilities bond voters passed in Nov. 2008, the district has already spent the first $50 million, Superintendent Deborah Flores said. The bond was scheduled to sell in three series. The first went quickly and mostly toward CHS. The district then began tapping into the second, $45-million series earlier than it expected and won’t have access to the final $55 million until several years from now.

Because the district cannot access all the money at once, trustees are now faced with a dilemma, Flores said.

“What we’re trying to do is balance the completion of CHS with that of other long overdue projects, like Rod Kelley and Rucker (elementary schools),” Flores said. “It’s an issue of balancing competing needs.”

As the largest elementary school in the district, Rod Kelley is bursting with about 800 students. In addition, Rucker is “in need of, if not a major renovation, then a complete rebuild,” Flores said.

Bound by time constraints, trustees need to decide soon between moving forward with the final classroom wing at CHS or installing portables if they want to be able to accommodate all four grades by August 2011. The school currently only serves freshmen and sophomores, but will expand to include juniors in August.

The district also presented trustees with a third option of constructing a two-story modular building, which was unlikely to receive support as it would cost more than the permanent wing and wouldn’t open on time.

Trustees planned to discuss the three options Thursday night.

While the permanent wing would enclose the campus and cost $17 million, installing 36 portable classrooms would cost about $5.4 million. But unlike the permanent wing, which is expected to last at least 50 years, portables would have to be replaced after 25 years, adding an additional cost of about $8 million.

“Obviously we don’t want portables on this beautiful campus,” CHS Principal John Perales said. “It’s a state-of-the-art campus. It’s beautifully designed. I think it would be a step backwards.”

On the other hand, Perales said he understood the district’s vast needs.

“From my perspective as a community member, I’m torn,” he said. “There’s a part of me that’s very conflicted by this. There are schools like Rucker that desperately need new facilities. But it would be hard to imagine putting portables on a campus like this.”

As someone who campaigned extensively for Measure P’s passage, Perales said he felt the district had made a commitment to the voters to finish CHS the way it was designed.

“That’s what I campaigned on,” he said. “I know there were other areas listed in the campaign literature. But I think the excitement and push was to complete CHS.”

The school’s namesake, garlic mogul and benefactor Don Christopher, sent a letter to trustees Thursday morning urging them to finish what they started.

“I feel that it’s important that once we start a project, we should do all we can to finish it – and as soon as possible,” Christopher wrote. “Finishing projects is what we instill in our children, in our employees, and ourselves.”

Installing portables would be a “big mistake,” he said Thursday afternoon.

“If it’s not finished now, it will never be finished,” he wrote. “As you all know, there is never enough money to do all the building of our schools that is needed.”

Although Christopher said he would not be able to make Thursday night’s board meeting in person, CHS Parent Club President Sherri Laveroni said she expected CHS to be well represented by parents, students and staff.

As a parent and a voter, Laveroni said she supported Measure P because she believed it would fund the completion of the high school – without portables.

“Basically, we’re asking the board to continue as planned and complete the classroom wing as it was designed,” Laveroni said. “That’s our wish.”

But from his perspective as a trustee, Good said he could not justify spending more money on CHS at the expense of other schools.

The first phase of the high school cost about $130 million, including more than $5 million in change orders. The second phase will cost about $40 million and includes the classroom wing, the school’s aquatics center and a parking lot.

“If we need the classrooms and all we can afford is portables, then we’ll go with portables,” he said. “You can’t spend more than you have. CHS is not the only school in the district.”

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