School master plans take shape in Merced

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comDecember 3, 2013 

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Merced's Rivera Middle School, seen here in 2010 when its new gym was built, might become a kindergarten through eighth-grade school in the near future.

MARCI STENBERG — Merced Sun-Star

— Rivera Middle School may be enlarged to accommodate elementary grades, sixth-graders could return to Merced elementary schools and the highest-priority modernizations would be accomplished if a bond measure is passed next year by voters.

These were the indications emerging this week during a facilities master plan study session by the Merced City School District Board of Education. Board members asked administrators to get the ball rolling on the Rivera Middle School expansion by putting the recruitment of an architect on their Dec. 10 business meeting agenda.

Sixth-graders were moved to the middle schools in the early 1970s and could return to the elementary schools by the end of 2016, the board indicated. If middle schools only have seventh- and eighth-graders, that could delay the need to build a new intermediate school.

Board President Adam Cox said it is his understanding that a general obligation bond measure of about $50 million would be supported by local voters in a 2014 election. Cox and other board members want bond advisers to give them information about the amount of bonds the district could support and total figures for the highest priority needs identified by staff members and administrators.

Cox said moving sixth-graders from middle school to elementary school appears to be the right move for the district. At a series of workshops, he said parents appeared more comfortable having their children attend sixth grade in an elementary school setting.

Superintendent RoseMary Parga Duran confirmed the district has been thinking about moving sixth-graders to elementary school for years.

Parga Duran said the first draft of the facilities master plan, which has been under development for more than a year, will be given to board members Dec. 10. She said making Rivera Middle School a kindergarten through eighth-grade school takes some of the pressure off the need to build a new elementary school. The board is expected to approve the master plan at its January meeting.

There is $6.785 million left in the Measure S bond fund from the mid-2000s which can be used to build a new classroom wing for kindergarten through second-grade students at Rivera Middle School. Construction of that campus, named for the late school Superintendent Rudolph Rivera, began in 1968.

Greg Spicer, associate superintendent for administrative services, gave a 70-minute overview of some of the details that will be part of the facilities master plan. The highest-ranked priorities for facilities improvements at the district’s 17 campuses exceed $35 million. To address all needs identified could cost $297 million, the report shows.

Board member Gene Stamm called the $297 million figure a “super wish list” and said bond consultants have told the board a bond measure of between $35 million and $65 million is feasible. That includes money for upgrading climate control systems, security features and wiring, particularly the electrical features supporting modern technology.

Stamm told fellow board members that all building modifications should be accomplished before new buildings are constructed. He said it’s important to show that improvements are contemplated at all 17 schools, with the Rivera School project the highest priority.

He said before boundary changes are made to move all sixth-graders to elementary schools, the district will need to proceed first with the Rivera project.

At a series of focus group workshops last year, parents who spoke supported the shift of sixth-graders to elementary school, Spicer said, as long as the music, library and sports programs they are accustomed to are provided.

The sixth-grade shift will free more room at the middle school level for future populations, and the process makes school enrollment more equitable, Parga Duran said. She said building a middle school costs three times as much as constructing an elementary school.

Parga Duran said it would be a couple of years before the sixth-grade shift would be put in place.

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

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