By Tim Hunt
New Donlon school is at least four years awayUploaded: Jan 17, 2019
Pleasanton school district trustees reviewed potential financing options for the two schools on the Donlon Elementary School site this week, but any solution remains at least four years away.
That was the estimate presented to the board at its Dec. 18 meeting when it decided the Donlon site would have a new school for fourth and fifth grades and the existing school would be for pre-kindergarten through third grade. I reached out to district spokesman Patrick Gannon asking why it was going to take so long to get the new school operating.
He responded with a detailed email and shared there are two key elements—one in the district’s control—and the other the infamous state architect’s office that must approve all school designs. The first phase, which must be completed before a submission to the state, involves considering the program and the design of the new school. That will include community input about the school to guide the architects.
Gannon wrote, ”At our December 18 board meeting much of the input and questions we received around the programming and design of the new school - so this will be an important process and conversation for the District and school community before putting shovels in the ground.”
Once this is completed, then it can take six to nine months for the state agency to approve the building plans. Gannon noted that even fencing projects at Mohr and Fairlands elementary schools required state architect’s approval.
He also challenged my reference to overcrowding, clarifying it as a misconception.
“We see this issue as student capacity, rather than one of overcrowding of classrooms/schools. For classroom sizes, the District’s contract with our teachers’ association includes class-size limits for all grades. Classrooms in grades K-3, for example, are enrolled at all school sites with a maximum of 24 students. If a school were to enroll additional students that put us beyond that limit, we would open a new classroom as opposed to overfilling existing classrooms.
“For our schools, our neighborhoods are shifting. As residents sell their houses, new families with children are moving in. Because the Facilities Master Plan identifies school size guidelines that the District is working to implement, enrollment is being overflowed to schools with classroom space. Existing northern Pleasanton schools have insufficient classroom space (given the contractual class size limits) to hold the growing student enrollment from that area. Thus, the student capacity issue.”
It's not an issue unique to Pleasanton. The San Ramon Valley district, with most of the new housing in the Dougherty Valley, saw classrooms filled there while there was substantial classroom space available in northern schools that are located in older neighborhoods with many empty-nesters. What’s happening in Pleasanton is what was seen about 20 years ago when neighborhoods were rolling over with empty-nesters selling and families with younger kids moving in.
He concluded his email, writing, “We understand the sense of urgency and are moving to ensure the new elementary school meets the needs of our community.”
Here’s hoping the district can compress the input time to accelerate the timeline. It’s a hassle for families, particularly given the real estate prices in Pleasanton, to schlep their kids out of their neighborhoods to attend school. And, it does nothing for traffic in the city.