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CUSD proceeds with junior high school site despite vocal opposition
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Ceres Unified School District is moving forward with plans to purchase 19.7 acres of land for the future construction of a new junior high school.

About seven nearby landowners voiced opposition and asked that the site be dropped from consideration during Wednesday afternoon's Ceres School Board meeting. Patricia Cousins, Norman and Marla Caulkins, Mary Jane Scheuber, Jeanie Knox, David Catlett and Larry Maxfield attended the public hearing.

After concerns were voiced, the Ceres School Board approved the district's recommendation to proceed with the site with a unanimous 7-0 vote.

"There's not been one site we've built at where everyone's happy," said Jay Simmonds, director of community relations for CUSD. "I understand why they're frustrated. But at the same time, we have to do what's right for students. Research clearly shows smaller junior highs are safer and promote better relationships."

The 19.7-acre site, owned by the LaRosa family, is located on the south side of East Whitmore Avenue, immediately west of LaRosa Elementary School.

The Cousins/Caulkins families have farmed land for over 100 years in Ceres. They currently own a little over 40 acres.

Norman said the proposed site for the new junior high school poses a number of problems.

"It's not a safe place," he stated. "Kids will be exposed to bees, pesticide spraying and dust. More importantly, it's in the flight path (of Modesto Airport). That greatly concerns me."

"We're following all state and federal regulations," Simmonds said. "The site is located outside the two-mile radius of the airport."

The Knox family owns 40 acres of land between Whitmore Avenue and Roeding Road, east of Faith Home Road.

"Seventy-five years from now, the people that live here will regret the current leadership's decisions," Jeanie said. "They're not focused on protecting prime land. We will no longer be the bread basket and we'll be importing food from other countries."

Scheuber, who lives off of Faith Home Road, owns three acres of land. Her family has farmed land in the area since 1911.

"The district needs to know how people feel," said Mrs. Scheuber, who suggested constructing permanent buildings in place of portables at the district's two existing junior high schools. "The best way to do that is with a petition."

A preliminary environmental assessment was conducted for CUSD and a notice was circulated to the general public prior to last week's special meeting.

Patricia Cousins said proper notice wasn't given to surrounding property owners and conflicting terminology was used in the assessment. CUSD advertised the site as being at the southeast corner of Whitmore Avenue and Eastgate Boulevard when it is actually at the southwest corner.

Asked if she was prepared to challenge the district's decision, she said: "I don't think we know what the next step is."

"In court, it will hold up," Simmonds said. "The actual notice was done according to state law."

The new junior high will be designed to accommodate 900 students, employ 60 faculty and staff, and include nine separate classroom and faculty buildings.

Ceres Unified is building a third junior high school to alleviate overcrowding at Mae Hensley and Blaker-Kinser, which are both nearing capacity.

"We passed the bond to make this happen," board trustee Mike Welsh said.