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Ceres Unified School District officials will be gauging public attitude toward yet another bond measure for school facilities.

Based on projections for future growth, CUSD's facilities master plan calls for a new elementary school, junior high school and infill wing at Central Valley High School.

District officials have identified a possible source of funding for the projects, which carry an estimated price tag between $63 and $73 million with the district's share exceeding $36 million.

"One of the options we used in the past is a bond measure," said Scott Siegel, assistant superintendent of business services for CUSD. "If we had a bond to pass, and it was structured properly, we could qualify for financial hardship. That would reduce the burden on local taxpayers. That's a similar idea to what we did last time."

Voters passed Measure J, a $25 million bond, in 2001 to help pay for the construction of Central Valley High School. The state matched the amount to complete the high school, then kicked in an additional $105 million to build five new elementary schools, enhance the campus of Ceres High School and modernize some of the district's aging schools.

"We're hoping to do that again if the community supports the idea," said Jay Simmonds, facilities planner for CUSD. "Ultimately, it's about saving kids. A smaller-school environment makes a big difference. It's a lot more peaceful and kids feel a lot more connected."

Siegel outlined CUSD's future housing needs plan during the information and study session portion of Thursday night's Ceres School Board meeting.

He said the district would need a new elementary school within the next three to four years if growth does not slow. A potential site has already been identified on the west side of Ceres. Estimated total cost will be $15 million, including $7.5 million for CUSD.

To accommodate overcrowding at its two junior high schools, Ceres Unified would like to open a third one in August 2011 or 2012. Location will be on the east side of Ceres. The project will cost $40 to $50 million. The district's share would exceed $25 million.

"With a smaller junior high, we have a better chance of keeping our students away from drugs and gangs," Siegel said. "And keeping them academically focused."

If growth continues at near the current rate, Siegel said the district should aim to add the infill wing at Central Valley High School for the 2010 school year. The new building will have 14-16 classrooms and will house 400 students. The district would pay for half of the anticipated $8 million project.

Ceres Unified has until August to drum up public support for a bond measure that would be placed on the November 2008 ballot. Officials are currently soliciting and receiving positive feedback.

"We'll have to come up with another alternative if the support's not there," Simmonds said. "We hope that's not the case."

Added Siegel: "We're cautiously optimistic."