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Riverbank building its first campus in 6 decades to ease overcrowding

RIVERBANK -- The housing collapse interrupted the city's plans for growth, but not Riverbank Unified School District's design for an elementary school.

It's been 60 years since the district built its last school, Superintendent Ken Geisick said, and there's a need for a new one.

"Rio Altura has more than 700 kids, forcing it to be a year-round (elementary) school," Geisick said. "We have a charter school there; it's where we have our language academy, and we'll be able to expand that."

Planning for the school, which has yet to named and will be in northeast Riverbank, coincided with talk of a 3,400-home development that was called Bruinville.

Houses were supposed to start going up last year, but, as in many Northern San Joaquin Valley cities, the ground is bare as home construction has all but ceased.

Geisick said the school is needed to serve students already in Riverbank, and enrollment is rising even without the new homes.

The estimated cost is $16 million, with funding from a 2005 school bond, developer fees and state funds. C.T. Brayton & Sons Construction of Escalon is the contractor, while Darden Architects of Fresno is the designer.

School construction is set to begin in September, and Geisick expects to have students on campus for the 2009-10 school year.

"A good size for an elementary school is about 500 kids, and we have 1,300-plus split between our two," he said. "The city will eventually wrap around the school and we'll be prepared for that.

"People are getting excited because it's been a long time since the district opened a school."

Riverbank High is 40 years old, but it was built by the Oakdale school district, which used to oversee Riverbank's secondary grades.

The elementary schools (Rio Altura and California Avenue) and Cardozo Middle School are showing the age that comes with serving generations of students. Crossroads Elementary School in west Riverbank was built by the Sylvan Union School District.

Interest in the language academy is another reason Geisick wants to reduce elementary enrollment at Rio Altura, which is in the city's northwest corner.

The academy is an immersion program teaching Spanish to English-speaking students and vice versa. It has 287 students and there is scant room to expand.

"As kids move from Rio Altura, it creates more opportunities to get kids into the language academy," he said. "It also gives us the opportunity to offer summer classes. Right now, Rio Altura's classrooms are full all year."

Bee staff writer Richard T. Estrada can be reached at restrada@modbee.com or 578-2304.

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