State

Stanislaus Union School District projects moving ahead

Students and staff have better roofs and ventilation systems after Stanislaus Union School District officials completed upgrades to several campuses.

One year after voters approved an increase in their property taxes to fund $39.8 million in school bonds, small projects have finished at each of the district's six sites.

Others are set for summer, when students aren't on campus.

Though the 3,000-student district is reducing spending, programs and staff because of the recession, the bond money can be spent only on construction.

Voter-approved capital improvement funds cannot go toward salaries or academic programs.

Stanislaus Union's centerpiece project is the major overhaul of Prescott Senior Elementary, the northwest Modesto district's only junior high school.

"It's really long overdue. Initial designs started six or seven years ago," said Superintendent Wayne Brown, adding that the school hasn't been upgraded much since it opened decades ago.

The modernization will cost about $16 million and include a new parking lot, classroom building, portables and improvements to the school's wiring and roofs.

The remodeling and expansion is necessary for the increase in students over the years and to bring buildings into compliance with state regulations, such as mandates to provide access for people with disabilities.

Those projects won't start until at least summer, but some of Prescott's heating, ventilation and air-conditioning units have been upgraded.

It was important to officials to spread the money around to other schools as soon as possible.

"We felt an obligation to take on some needs of all the sites," Brown said. "The first phase, the first year and a half, we had some relevancy for all of them."

Last summer, elementary schools got HVAC upgrades, asphalt improvements to ball courts and parking lots and portables reroofed for a grand total of $870,000.

Districts usually issue the bonds in phases. Stanislaus Union's first was for $11 million. Construction will be done in increments through 2016.

"Our biggest problem is the drop in assessed property value," said Paul Disario, a consultant managing the district's projects.

The lower the value of houses, the less money comes in from the bonds.

"I'm advising the district not to take too many financial risks," Disario said. "If you take on too much debt, you'll have to pay it back from the general fund."

The district administration, meanwhile, is doing some moving.

It's consolidating offices in the former Muncy Elementary School campus, which the district closed as part of a May budget-balancing measure.

It will be the first time all district departments, such as business and curriculum, will be at the same spot.

The district office was in three locations. One of those spots was rented and the landlords will need the site soon.

The rest of Muncy will be used for other programs, such as Head Start and adult education.

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at mhatfield@modbee.com or 578-2339. Read Hatfield's education blog at thehive.modbee.com/ExtraCredit.

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