Merced City School District Board of Education members ponder long-range facilities needs

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comOctober 24, 2013 

— Plenty of questions remained after Merced City School District Board of Education members pondered their long-range facilities master plan this week.

Nearly 90 minutes was spent during the board’s bimonthly business session going over future options. Two competing needs are emerging – upgrading technology and security features at all of the district’s 17 aging school sites or building a new school for an unserved area in north Merced.

Consultants from the Irvine-based Dolinka Group outlined strategies at Tuesday’s meeting and what has taken place in a lengthy series of planning meetings dating back to last year. The Oakland-based Lew Edwards polling firm is trying to determine what questions local voters should be asked about their willingness to support future school bonds.

Board member Darrell Cherf said trustees are looking at all options very carefully. There is no school north of Bear Creek and west of G Street, and each existing campus needs to be upgraded to meet 21st century technology requirements.

Board member Susan Walsh said they need to figure out what to do with the money available. She said she represents the community at large, and board members need to listen to the wishes of their constituents.

“We have old schools that need lots of work,” Walsh said. “All of our schools were built before the burst of technology. We don’t have the answer right now.”

One of the pivotal questions, Walsh said, is whether to build a new school in north Merced, add on to another campus or upgrade existing sites. Adding on to an existing school rather than building a brand-new campus would leave more money available for districtwide improvements.

Superintendent RoseMary Parga Duran said she wants to schedule a board study session to address growth questions and go over the long-range facilities master plan, due to be unveiled in December.

“We have lots of infrastructure needs we need to take care of,” Duran said. “There is a lot more to discuss.”

Board President Adam Cox said he is looking forward to seeing December’s report on improvement priorities. Potential funding sources besides local bonds could include state modernization funds, developer fees or money from Proposition 39.

Board member Gene Stamm said he has plenty of questions about future options, adding that no commitment to any course of action has been made so far.

“We are going to have to do something,” Stamm said. “We are talking modernization at all our schools, which is needed.”

Greg Spicer, associate superintendent for administrative services, said a major theme is providing capacity for the needs of north Merced, looking 10 to 15 years down the road and guessing what needs will emerge then.

“It will be fun to see how it all plays out,” Spicer said, referring to the long-range facilities master plan report to be unveiled in December, with final recommendations being acted upon in January.

Besides the long-range facilities master plan committee, study groups at each school site and an executive committee of district administrators have been looking at the district’s needs since at least February.

Duran said safety and security needs also need to be examined. She said at this point the state does not have matching funds that can be used for school construction.

Sun-Star staff writer Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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