Plan for third Merced high school has area divided

Critics, backers voice opinions at meeting of Merced Union High School District

04/14/2011 1:05 AM

04/14/2011 5:47 AM

ATWATER — Conflicting comments swirled around the advisability of building Merced's third high school, as Merced Union High School District trustees gave the public a chance to comment on the $87 million campus due to be completed two years from now.

About 130 attended the lengthy board session Wednesday night in the Buhach Colony High School theater. Critics called the future Bellevue area campus near G Street and Farmland Avenue extravagant and ill-timed, while proponents said the district would be foolish not to take advantage of $35 million in state funds and plan for the future.

Buffy McDaniel of Atwater received loud applause as she advocated building new classrooms and improving facilities at existing schools instead of erecting a new campus.

"This is fiscal irresponsibility at a time of declining enrollment, teacher layoffs and dropping property values," McDaniel said. "You are moving blindly ahead. Why not complete existing schools before building a new one?"

Bill Baker of Merced, of Merced Voters Promoting Common Sense, also stirred up the crowd when he said he is not against building a new high school, just not now.

"I think it's bad timing with uncertain revenues and the extravagant nature of this program," Baker said. His group paid for a full-page newspaper advertisement in Monday's Sun-Star criticizing the new school.

On the other hand, Denard Davis, a former assistant county superintendent of schools, congratulated trustees for their vision in planning facilities for 10 years from now.

"We need to do something for kids," Davis said. "By planning now we will avoid overcrowding which is not conducive to learning. You won't get $35 million again from the state."

Perhaps the harshest comments came from Christine Meeusen of Merced.

"I hope you take my comments as tough love and not contempt," Meeusen said. "Our education is the lowest in California. There's a reason enrollment is going down; people have stopped sending their kids to school. There's a home-schooling boom. We have bigger problems than building a new school."

Retired educator Galen Chastain said Measure M bond literature clearly spelled out certain building projects might be delayed or not completed, references to concerns that the new Merced school would derail plans for new gyms at Merced and Atwater high schools.

Jan Collins of Merced told trustees Merced is number one for housing foreclosures and they should reconsider, review and readjust their building plans.

"By the time we vote you out, you will have already caused a decline in property values," Collins said.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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