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Modesto district to spend millions on school upgrades. Where your money is going

District officials say science classrooms at Mark Twain Junior High School are outdated and not equipped keep up with new science curriculum in Modesto, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. Modesto City Schools has two bond measures on the November ballot to generate funds for renovating elementary school facilities.
District officials say science classrooms at Mark Twain Junior High School are outdated and not equipped keep up with new science curriculum in Modesto, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. Modesto City Schools has two bond measures on the November ballot to generate funds for renovating elementary school facilities. aalfaro@modbee.com

Modesto City Schools is poised in May to issue the first $26 million in bonds for renovations and improvements for elementary schools and junior high campuses.

In November, voters in Modesto’s largest school district approved Measures D and E, totaling $131 million to renovate schools, upgrade science classrooms, replace portable buildings and make health and safety improvements, among other things.

There are needs for spending millions more on renovations for Modesto’s three older high schools — Modesto, Downey and Davis. But district leaders decided that major high school repairs would be too much for voters. It appears the district is now looking at 2022 for putting a high school bond on the ballot.

The improvements funded by D and E will begin in June with some quick projects for all 26 schools, including security cameras, new paint and dry rot repairs, marquees and parking, district officials said this week. Parents should see those kinds of enhancements at schools in the next two years.

New heating and air-conditioning units at La Loma, Roosevelt and Mark Twain junior highs should provide better temperature controls in gymnasiums for athletic games and activities. Expect to see new parking at Robertson Road and El Vista schools, and a new cafeteria is being designed for 90-year-old Wilson School.

District officials put eight schools on a most-urgent list, including Tuolumne, Fremont, Shackelford, John Muir, Fairview, Franklin, El Vista and Orville Wright.

Tim Zearley, assistant superintendent of business services, said the district is creating site master plans for those schools because the upgrades may require relocation of facilities on the campuses.

As an example, Fremont Elementary, on West Orangeburg Avenue and Tully Road, is a school where parents drop off their kids alongside two busy streets. If a parking lot is added for safer dropoffs and pickups, that may require moving the main office, and a professional design is needed to create easy traffic flow.

Franklin Elementary in west Modesto also needs paved parking and a better dropoff zone in front, along with other needs on campus.

“The public will see improvements starting this summer, with the major renovations planned to begin in summer 2020,” Zearley said. “In the next few summers, you will see tax dollars put to use at all 26 of our schools that benefit from these two bond measures.”

Property owners will also see additional charges on tax bills due to D and E — an additional $50 per $100,000 in value.

Measure D called for everything from roof repairs and resurfaced playgrounds to upgraded cafeterias and better access for the disabled, replacement of old plumbing and electrical wiring and enhanced security. Measure E has funding for replacing many of the 350 portables at school sites, along with classroom enhancements and junior high science labs, energy efficient improvements at schools and a special education pool at Sonoma School.

The district has a tentative schedule for D and E bond issues every two years from 2019 to 2027. But MCS will watch the bond market for timing of projects and financing to minimize interest payments on bonds, Zearley said. “Our goal is to provide the most benefits for taxpayers,” he stressed.

In late 2017, the school board also identified needs at high school campuses, such as replacing portables, basic renovations, athletic field and locker-room improvements, adding or replacing swimming facilities, theater and expanded administrative offices.

District leaders now have more time to consider the specifics for a high school bond, whether it’s items like an all-weather track or a makeover for the Downey High auditorium. An additional bond would need to overcome resistance to more charges on annual property tax bills.

“I definitely think it needs to be done,” board member John Ervin III said, referring to a high school bond. “I know the priority was for the elementary schools to get the first go-around. I think the next phase is the high school district. In my opinion, Modesto High, Downey and Davis would be at the top of the list — in that order.”

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