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CUSD eyes 3 new school sites
The economy has tanked. Housing starts are almost non-existent. But the Ceres Unified School District is plannng for three new schools.

It will be years before Ceres needs either or two planned elementary schools. Student population has flat-lined - as of Dec. 31, CUSD had 11,932 students - but CUSD could use a new junior high school right now, said Assistant Superintendent Scott Siegel. Both existing junior high schools - Mae Hensley and Blaker Kinser - are too big for comfort. Ceres' junior high population is now at 1,800 with both schools roughly taking half. A third junior high means three schools of approximately 600 students.

"Any growth will push us to places we don't want to go," said Siegel.

According to Jay Simmonds, CUSD's Educational Options Coordinator and Facilities Planner, research indicates that the junior high age group experience bears a lot to do with the high school drop-out rate.

"School size really makes a difference in how connected students feel to school," said Simmonds. "We're of the belief that 900 is too big for those junior highs today."

CUSD officials have three sites in mind, all of which were reviewed last night by the Ceres Planning Commission. (The meeting took place after this edition went to press) but no problems were expected with the commission determining that the sites were consistent with the general plan.

Siegel said the "elementaries are years out" but noted CUSD is ready to proceed full speed on the new junior high. The school is expected to cost $36 millon - plus or minus $3 million - and will be paid for from the proceeds of bonds to be sold as a result of the voters' passage of the $60 million Measure U. Siegel said that the state will reimburse CUSD for the costs of the school but when is in doubt due to the state budget turmoil. Until the state reimburses CUSD, something else will not be built, said Siegel.

CUSD has picked out a 19.7-acre parcel for the junior high school. It's located near La Rosa Elementary School, at the southwest corner of Whitmore and Eastgate Boulevard. Siegel said the district wants to break ground on the junior high by summer and classes starting by August 2011. The campus would consist of modular buildings, a cost-effective construction mode that was employed when CUSD built five new elementaries in Berryhill, Hidahl, Sinclear, Adkison and La Rosa campuses.

The district also wants to purchase a 14.4-acre site for another elementary school on Roeding Road west of Mitchell Road. Key to purchasing the site is whether CUSD can qualify for a new round of hardship money and when the state can deliver the funds. The state is currently in an unprecedented budget quagmire and facing budget deficits of $42 billion. Siegel doesn't expect to be inking agreements with property owners for another one to two years. CUSD runs the risk of having someone else snatch up the property for other uses.

CUSD identified the Roeding Road site on the advice of city officials who are crafting a master plan for downtown that will result in more living units. The school would also enable CUSD to ease overcrowding at Walter White Elementary in the downtown area.

The third parcel being considered is a 4-acre parcel on S. Central Avenue immediately south of Central Valley High School. The district already owns six acres next to the high school. Plans are to join the four new acres with the six for a10-acre elementary school that will share circulation access with the CVHS parking lot.

The new school site is centrally located in the Copper Trails master plan, the next phase of residential development in Ceres.