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By Tim Hunt

Valley Trails site is poor location for school

Uploaded: Apr 18, 2017

The joint meeting of school trustees and city council members last week came around to discussing whether the school district should build a new elementary school on a church site in Valley Trails.
Ponderosa Homes has optioned the site and, after lots of meetings with the neighborhood, is moving ahead with a 36-home plan for the 10-acre site. Building out the neighborhood is a reasonable use for the land. It is an awkward location for a school. It’s like a school site located off Black Avenue that the district sold off years ago for a Ponderosa housing project that finished the neighborhood.
Putting an elementary school in Valley Trails will create significant traffic disruptions for the neighborhood. Unlike most elementary school sites that are located on or near major streets, the Valley Trails site sits at the end of a “U” with North and South Valley Trails drives. To reach the site, drivers must traverse the length of the entire neighborhood. The only elementary school tucked into a similar neighborhood is Vintage Hills.
Bottom line: it is far from an ideal site for an elementary school. It is in the right area of town.
The other site that the trustees are moving ahead with is on Vineyard Avenue between Ruby Hill and the rest of the community. Again, not an ideal site—one that kids will not walk to simply because there are few homes in the area.
Now that the council has deferred any planning for East Pleasanton for at least two years, if trustees are determined to build a school, there will not be an ideal site. If East Pleasanton moves forward with a residential community of 900 units, there would be a logical spot for an elementary school in that project.
What’s critical, particularly for the Valley Trails church site, is a speedy decision so Ponderosa doesn’t get strung out with its project that already has been a multi-year effort.
Incidentally, there was an interesting set of letters in a recent Pleasanton Weekly edition. Jan Batcheller’s letter pointed out that the district was planning a $35 million elementary school that will cost $1 million annually to operate. That’s not pocket change.
If the goal is simply to get within the enrollment goals for elementary schools or to move some students out of portables, as Jan points out, research has shown no correlation between the size of the school and the achievement of the students.
There also seems a question from some people about whether portables are a suitable classroom for Pleasanton students. Many years ago, before the elementary schools across the district were renovated, the modular units with efficient heating and air conditioning systems were far more comfortable for students.
It makes no difference, as long as maintenance is appropriate, whether a 30x30 classroom is stick-built or a modular unit. Students can learn equally well whatever the classroom.
Remember, the test scores at Amador and Foothill did not tank when there were a huge number of modular classrooms on the campuses while the stick-built facilities were being renovated.
The number of portable classrooms vary across the elementary schools with several elementary schools with none, while others have one-third or more. Frankly, I haven’t seen a measurable difference in test scores because Fairlands has one-third of its classrooms in portables—like Valley View and Vintage Hills.
The state, to tap into matching construction grants, required districts to utilize portables for half of the classrooms at new schools. That allowed sites to evolve as student enrollment changed.
Pleasanton has not seen the shifts in enrollment that have been seen in both Dublin and particularly Livermore. Livermore has closed several schools over the years, sold school sites and is preparing to sell another site. Portables provide the flexibility for districts to adapt.