School board is disposed to pursue facilities bond in November election

The school board has weighed in. The Claremont Unified School District Board of Education is unanimously in favor of putting a school bond measure on the ballot in November. They have settled on an amount of $58 million, which will pay for projects touching each of the 11 Claremont school sites.

It was not an official vote by the board but a workshop, held early Thursday evening prior to the regular school board meeting. Superintendent Jim Elsasser led the gathering, which aimed to gauge if the board was in favor of putting forth a bond, and if so, what size.

The board will vote at the June 16 school board meeting on whether to pursue a facilities bond, directing staff to prepare a resolution. If they say yes, the board will be presented with a resolution to place a bond initiative on the fall ballot at its August 4 meeting.

In a town where local politics has been marked by deliberation and even contention in recent months, the board’s consensus is somewhat remarkable. It comes, however, after an intensive process of preparation and review complete with a heaping dose of community input.

The district conducted a needs assessment during the spring and summer of 2015, at which time $111 million in facilities projects were identified. Staff then went line by line, refining the list to half the dollar amount and to reflect the district’s highest priorities.

Then it was time to reach out to the community, educating the public about CUSD’s facilities needs and finding out which projects district stakeholders deem most important.

A couple of green measures have been non-negotiable from the start. Should a bond measure be passed, all CUSD sites will have upgrades to their HVAC and lighting systems, at an estimated cost of $3,125,000 and $2,086,988, respectively.

The district may be able to capitalize on some Prop 39 money, getting a slice of the annual $550 million in state funding designated to improve energy efficiency and expand clean energy generation in schools.

Either way, the project will yield a healthy return-on-investment in the form of reduced power bills, considering how efficient HVAC and lighting systems have become in recent years.

Another must-do item identified by the district is roofing improvements at all campuses except for Claremont High School, which was re-roofed last summer.  The estimated cost for the project is $3,492,212.

While individual turnout at bond meetings has been scant, Mr. Elsasser and Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Lisa Shoemaker have presented at no less than 39 gatherings, from public forums at El Roble and CHS to presentations to local service organizations such as Rotary.

The meetings yielded considerable feedback. 

One of the biggest jobs the district has pondered is refurbishing the El Roble swimming pool, which, after years of being patched up, broke down completely a few years ago. It has been drained ever since.

At the public bond meetings, attendees were asked to “spend” stickers by placing them on charts listing projects a bond measure might entail. They were also given the opportunity for public comment.

There has been plenty of support for using bond money to pay for the pool-fix at the local junior high, at an estimated $2,3400,000. A prevailing sentiment has emerged, however, particularly among residents with kids at Claremont High School. The high school pool, which by all accounts is on its last legs, is also in need of refurbishment, according to district staff.

Some savings may be gained through economy of scale, should the district undertake refurbishment of both pools at the same time, according to Service Center Director Rick Cota. Still, the cost of the job is likely to be in the $2 million range.

Community members have also shared that they are more excited about projects that will directly touch students—such replacing the district’s portables with sturdier modular buildings (estimated cost $12,388,545)—than they are about a proposed $1,929, 769 upgrade and reconfiguration of CUSD office and staff workrooms.

When asked whether she would support presenting a school facilities bond in November and what the amount she judges feasible, School Board Member Beth Bingham questioned whether it would be possible to amend the proposed list of projects, swapping out the office upgrades for refurbishment of the CHS pool.

When Mr. Elsasser answered in the affirmative, she said she could get behind a $58 million bond measure that would include fixes for the pools at both the junior high and the high school.

The rest of the board agreed. A $58 million bond, with the price-tag tacked onto Claremonters’ property taxes, sounds large, the board acknowledged, but noted that the money will be spread across 11 campuses.

Before they adjourned, immediately commencing with their regular meeting, the board made one more decision. Public support for refurbishing the restroom at San Antonio High School, at a cost of $418,275, via a bond measure has been negligible.

Still, the bathrooms at the local continuation school—housed in a portable building whose floor has been rotting for more than a decade—are in desperate need of replacement. The board decided the best course of action is to embark on the project as soon as possible, using existing district funds, and to take the item off the bond measure.

Should the board continue on its current course, a school bond will join a ballot with numerous state measures and, potentially, a second city bond to fund a new police station.

Board member Dave Nemer said while a busy ballot means competition, it should herald a healthy voter turnout. Steven Llanusa also noted that with the sale of the former La Puerta Intermediate School stalled, a bond measure seems to be the only way to make a meaningful improvement in the district’s aging facilities.

Along with the aforementioned projects, a potential facilities bond would include refurbishment of the locker rooms at El Roble and CHS ($7,104,043), upgrades to CHS’ large gym, including installation of a currently non-existent HVAC system ($840,938), an overhaul of the CHS music building ($1,501,256) and a complete remodel of the high school’s student center/food prep facility ($6,745,781).

Ms. Shoemaker said it is important for people to know that the district will rely on a bond oversight committee, ensuring that the district is spending bond money efficiently.

The community has passed two school bond measures in the last 40 years, the most recent being Measure Y, a $48,910,000 bond approved by voters 16 years ago.

—Sarah Torribio


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