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Construction starts on new alternative school next to P.O.
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Landmovers have been grading the land south of the Ceres Post Office to make way for the construction of a new alternative school by the Stanislaus County Office of Education. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Construction has started on a new $6 million school alternative school next to the Ceres Post Office.

The Stanislaus County Office of Education (SCOE) said the Mitchell Road project is made possible because the state came through with the funding from statewide bonds. SCOE qualified for 100 percent state funding for being considered a "hardship" district based on eligibility factors.

"The hardship money was passed out and we were at the very end of it," said Kathy Lasiter, director of operations for SCOE. "The state is now out of bond money and they're talking about a new bond (measure) in 2014. We were probably one of the last six projects to be funded."

Construction is expected to take place for the next 12 months with completion in the fall of 2014 and students being introduced to the campus by December 2014.

Don Gatti, SCOE's assistant superintendent for Business, said the new school will help SCOE provide education "services to students who don't make it in regular school."

The new campus will be designed for approximately 180 junior and senior high school students who are expelled from regular classes, mostly from the Ceres, Hughson and Keyes area. The new campus will replace the existing alternative education school operated in rented property at the former Memorial Hospital Ceres campus.

Lasiter said the school will be sized for 10 classrooms which will house approximately 20 students.

"I'm excited about this project because I'm anxious to get these students into permanent facilities and out of rented portables ... and out of an area that doesn't work well," said Lasiter. "We needed a new facility. And we're leasing the old doctor offices across the street because we have more students."

SCOE plans to carry over the name of the existing Ceres facility -- the Stanislaus Arts Academy -- to the new 3.5-acre Mitchell Road site which was purchased by SCOE about three years ago. The local office paid $1.5 million for the ground after assessing it as a good location, largely because of its accessibility to a public transportation route and because it was on the outskirts of a residential area. Ceres city officials were not so excited about potential commercial development being pre-empted by a school, however.

The Ceres school will bear a resemblance to the new Stanislaus County Culinary Institute in Oakdale and one being finished in Patterson. The campus will consist of a multi-purpose room that will be prominently visible from Mitchell Road, a main classroom building for senior high schools and a separate building for three junior high classrooms. The main building will face the south, said Lasiter, toward the school parking lot.

SCOE officials have pledged to keep the pedestrian shortcut open near the post office that connects Mitchell Road with Standford Avenue. The opening is a convenient short-cut from the residential area to uses on Mitchell Road without having to travel to Whitmore Avenue or Roeding Road. It will be paved and made to look nice, said Lasiter. She said some students may use the pathway.

Gatti said community schools are designed to turn around students and get them back in their home schools.

"We have a fairly transient population coming and going from our programs regularly," said Gatti.