Merced schools’ board adopts long-range facilities plan

The Merced City School District’s Long Range Facilities Master Plan now is a living document that will guide some major upgrades at 17 elementary and middle school campuses in Merced for years to come.

Board members Tuesday night unanimously adopted the master plan that has been in the works for more than a year and involved input from community members, administrators, teachers, staff members and parents.

The plan identifies $119 million in top-priority improvements and sets the stage for a June bond election. Consultants told board members last November that polling showed about 65 percent of local residents would support a bond measure. A bond needs 55 percent voter approval to pass.

One of the first concrete results of the master plan will be to convert Rivera Middle School to a kindergarten through eighth-grade school, using the remaining $6.8 million in Measure S bonds passed nine years ago by local voters.

“So many of our 17 sites are decades and decades old,” board member Adam Cox said. “Funding is the next critical step. Where are we going to get that kind of money? It’s an eye-opener, and now is the time to make sure we take technology into the 21st century. Some of our older schools are still using the original heating and curtains.”

Rivera Middle School Associate Principal Ken Testa now is on special assignment to help with conversion of that campus to accommodate all of the grades. That project will include the construction of new kindergarten and primary-grade buildings.

Board member Susan Walsh said safety is the first priority and upgrades are next.

“I am delighted with the Long Range Facilities Master Plan,” Walsh said. “Unless you have a plan, nobody pays any attention to you. We have very old schools and some are not as safe as they could be and certainly not 21st-century learning places. I’m happy we did the plan.”

Board President Darrell Cherf said a large and diverse group of people have been involved in the master plan.

“It’s a good plan, a living document,” Cherf said. “We’ve got a lot of older schools in the district that need tender loving care. It will be an exciting time modernizing schools, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

Board member Gene Stamm said construction of the Rivera upgrades are the first item of business. “There are a lot of things and it will take some time to do it, but it’s going to work out,” he said.

Superintendent RoseMary Parga Duran said she’s glad the district is moving forward, adding that the master plan will provide direction for at least 10 years.

Cox pointed out that $300 million in facilities needs have been identified. Calling that a scary prospect, Cox said he hopes the community will support the basic $119 million in needs also detailed in the plan.

Board members have planned a study session at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Rivera library to go over Rivera construction details. That school recently completed a new gymnasium and multipurpose room. Plans made for other upgrades at the campus are still valid, officials said.

Those responding to the late-October survey placed high importance on repairing potentially faulty electrical systems, leaky roofs and plumbing, removing asbestos and lead paint, and improving school safety and security.

Cost summaries for the district’s individual campuses are: Burbank Elementary School, $7.2 million; Chenoweth Elementary School, $5.5 million; Franklin Elementary School, $5.5 million; Fremont Elementary School, $5.8 million; Ada Givens Elementary School, $5.8 million; Gracey Elementary School, $4.8 million; John Muir Elementary School, $4.7 million; Peterson Elementary School, $5.3 million; Alicia Reyes Elementary School, $4.9 million; Margaret Sheehy Elementary School, $7.7 million; Stefani Elementary School, $564,000; Stowell Elementary School, $1.6 million; Charles Wright Elementary School, $8.8 million; Cruickshank Middle School, $10.3 million; Hoover Middle School, $17.3 million; Rivera Middle School, $14.7 million, and Tenaya Middle School, $8.3 million.

To meet deadlines to hold an election in June, board members must decide to proceed by Feb. 25; a tentative timeline shows the board and administrators developing the project list and ballot measure language this month and February. The district would need to submit election paperwork to the Merced County registrar of voters by March 7 for a June 3 election date.

Information from the Dolinka Group consulting firm shows a 17-year bond program with five series of bond issues. More than 200 participants have attended 52 meetings on the master plan, including site surveys at all 17 campuses, a districtwide town hall meeting, focus group gatherings and sessions with school site committees.

Safety-security projects generally involve correction of potentially unsafe student drop-off areas, pedestrian circulation, parking and campus fencing-security perimeter issues.

Classroom modernization typically includes repair, upgrade and replacement of outdated building electrical and mechanical systems, interior-exterior finishes and fixtures. Technology upgrades to accommodate computer learning also are envisioned.