Sonoma Valley Unified School District suspends Woodland Star school construction project
A project that includes building a new multipurpose room at Woodland Star Charter School has been suspended as the Sonoma Valley Unified School District reviews its funding priorities.
“First, to be clear, the project has not been canceled,” said Superintendent Dr. Adrian Palazuelos. “It has been temporarily suspended while the district performs an assessment and considers how to best execute the remainder of the district’s Measure E bond program projects. Those decisions will be made as expeditiously as possible, with communication on this topic being provided directly to Woodland Star Executive Director Caroline Hopewell.”
Woodland Star’s modernization was scheduled to be completed in August. Plans called for the old administration building to be demolished and replaced, with a building that would have a new multipurpose room.
The first phase of construction included upgrading the school’s fire system, replacing a ramp to a classroom, providing new front fencing to make room for the new multipurpose building, reconfiguring drop-off and pickup lanes, and creating a new parking area where the back garden was located.
“Much of the phase one construction was designed to make room for the new hall (multipurpose room)” Hopewell said. “We are awaiting the second phase, which is primarily (creation of) the multipurpose building, which will have additional student bathrooms, a warming kitchen and a flexible space for large meetings, schoolwide events and performances. It will also house our music and handwork programs.”
Hopewell said operating without a multipurpose room is causing problems.
“The Main Hall (multipurpose room) is the heart of our school community and without it we struggle to gather as a whole community,” she said. “We view the gathering of our community as essential.”
The old administration building’s multipurpose room also was used as a classroom for music and handwork, which are now located in what is planned to be a maker’s room for science and woodworking at the school.
In addition, the building was used for lunch distribution, recess and movement classes during inclement weather and bad-air days. Class plays, a Waldorf school tradition, also were performed in the room.
SVUSD plans to supply substitute facilities on a short-term basis, as needed, at the school, which is adjacent to Altimira Middle School.
“Unfortunately, both schools would need to use the multipurpose room space at Altimira at the same time, so I don’t see Woodland Star being able to use it for food distribution, recess and movement classes on inclement weather or fire days,” Hopewell said. “I’m still waiting to hear about whether our middle school students can use the Altimira bathrooms that face our middle school.”
She added that Woodland Star has been given permission to hold its board meetings at the district office once per month.
Woodland Star’s modernization is expected to cost $8.7 million, rather than the originally estimated $6.4 million and the currently budgeted $8.2 million.
SVUSD received $120 million from the Measure E school bond issue, which is being used to fund the Woodland Star project and several others, but at the June 21 board of trustees meeting, Associate Superintendent Bruce Abbott stated that the anticipated costs exceed the funding by $463,000.
At the same meeting, Palazuelos expressed concern with construction costs and the declining availability of skilled labor workers.
“At a time of significant construction cost escalation and rising inflation, the district is doing its best to determine the best course forward to meet its facilities needs and fulfill its obligations to the community under the Measure E bond,” Palazuelos said on Monday.
The remaining projects resulting from the Measure E funding are the Sonoma Valley High School Aquatic Complex, scheduled for completion in October; modernization of Prestwood Elementary School’s multipurpose room, slated to be finished by spring 2023; a new multipurpose room, playground and courtyard at Sassarini Elementary School, to be completed by summer 2023; and a science wing at Sonoma Valley High School, to be added by summer 2024.
At the June 21 meeting, the SVUSD Board of Trustees voted to move ahead with the improvements at Sassarini Elementary, even though it will cost an estimated $9.4 million more than the more modest, originally proposed project.
Trustees Melanie Blake, Cathy Coleman and Troy Knox voted in favor of funding the project, now estimated to cost $13.6 million, and trustee Anne Ching voted against it. Trustee John Kelly was not present.
“I’m definitely supportive of Sassarini having a new facility,” Ching said at the meeting. “I think that is really important. But I think it’s very irresponsible of us to proceed on such a large capital project that has such a huge cost escalation when we have so many unknown factors out there.
“We haven’t come to any decisions or had any discussions about the ramifications of declining enrollment [in the district] and I don’t want to assume any foregone conclusions about how that discussion and decision-making process is going to turn out. I would be happy to put this project on hold while we come up with our strategic planning document.”
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