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Three new schools on the way
Saturday was a proud day for a former superintendent, a couple and the family of a departed loved one who will soon have a new elementary school bearing their names.

In a three-hour marathon of groundbreaking ceremonies, Ceres Unified School District held a ceremonies at the sites of:

• Walt L. Hanline Elementary School, next to Central Valley High School on South Central Avenue;

• Lucas Elementary School on Don Pedro Avenue west of Mitchell Road;

• Patricia "Kay" Beaver Elementary School on South Central Avenue just north of Grayson Road.

At $20 million each, the three schools are being funded entirely by state money. They will be constructed in the same cost-effective way as were Adkison, La Rosa, Berryhill, Sinclear and Hidahl campuses, by contractor Bruns-Belmont.

Lucas and Hanline schools will be sized for about 600 students each. Beaver will be sized for 650 students, mostly because of the inclusion of a science lab.

While Ceres has not seen any recent residential construction, the three campuses will allow CUSD to accommodate more students when building activity returns.

Also, without the new campuses, CUSD will not have room to house all existing students if the district must offer smaller class sizes in the event that the state discontinues Class Size Reduction (CSR) flexibility as is planned in 2014. Assistant Supt. Fred Van Vleck said the Legislature and governor may continue funding for CSR flexibility.

He explained that Ceres has been a part of CSR but is allowed to have classes in excess of 20 students per teacher while qualifying for CSR program funding. CUSD is now running K-3 class sizes of 22 to 23 students. If flexibility funding sunsets, then class sizes will revert back to 20:1 ratio, meaning a need for more classrooms if CUSD is to stay in the CSR program.

Van Vleck said CUSD wants to continue offering smaller class sizes since studies show that students learn better in smaller class sizes.

"As soon as we do that, we will almost fill one of these new schools," said Van Vleck. "We don't have enough classrooms to house all the students if we've crept up our class size (ratio) from that 22-23 number."

The added classrooms, he said, means the district can offer the preferred class size of 30 for fourth through 12 grades when the school funding picture improves. Class sizes will edge up to 32 this fall, he said.

"We need the facilities to do that when times get better," explained Van Vleck.

Assistant Supt. Jay Simmonds also explained that Lucas Elementary - which is the only of the three new schools to open in the 2013-14 school year, will likely be used as a dual immersion program for kindergartners and first-graders. The program would grow into higher grades in later years.

The other two schools won't open until the 2014-15 school year.

"The dual immersion program would be a 50-50 program for students to learn Spanish and English at the same time," said Simmonds. "There's been a lot of parent requests for that locally and that's a way to - if we did open that - alleviate some of the pressures at the other schools. The other schools are pretty close to full as they are, with the exception of a couple out on the outskirts, like Hidahl. When building comes back, all of these schools are completely filled."

The new schools are entirely funded by the state based on enrollment projections from planned future developments in the area.

"We get what's called 'eligibility' (funding) and based on that eligibility we get to build schools and classrooms," said Van Vleck. "So basically we're faced with the choice of we have the eligibility to build these three new elementary schools and we can either take the money - which is 100 percent funded by Sacramento - or we could leave the money."

Ceremonies held

At 9 a.m. former Superintendent Walt L. Hanline gathered with officials and the public to dedicate the school named in his honor in front of Central Valley High School. The School Board felt naming a school for Hanline was appropriate since he facilitated the successful expansion of the district from 12 schools to 19, including five new elementary campuses, a third new junior high campus and the Central Valley High School campus. Hanline served as superintendent from 2001 to 2010.

At 10 a.m. district officials motored to the site of Lucas Elementary School located between Roeding and Don Pedro roads. There, long-time farmer Grant Lucas and wife and former Ceres teacher Mildred Lucas, were honored.

Both have had a distinguished career.

A long-time resident of Ceres, graduating from Ceres High in 1940, Grant Lucas served in the armed forces during World War II as a paratrooper. He returned to Ceres to take over the family farm. He served on the first Board of Trustees for Ceres Unified (beginning in 1969), serving for for eight years. Today he a member of the Ceres Education Foundation board. Grant Lucas served as a member of the Ceres Lions for over 40 years, participating in Flag Day activities each year providing over 700 flags to Ceres third-graders. He also belongs to the American Legion Post #491.

Mildred, recognized as the Citizen of the Year by the Ceres Chamber of Commerce in 1979, wrote her own book on the history of Ceres, "From Amber Grain ... to Fruited Plain" in 1976.

Grant and Millie and their sons represent the third and fourth generation of Lucas family members living in Ceres.

Lucas Farms (founded in 1946) received the Agribusiness of the Year Award from the Ceres Chamber of Commerce in 1988

The final dedication took place at 11 a.m. at the future site of Patricia "Kay" Beaver Elementary School at South Central Avenue and Grayson Road.

Mrs. Beaver, who died in 2001 after battling cancer, taught history and social studies at Ceres High for over a decade, beginning in 1990. She was the advisor and teacher for the Cereal yearbook class. She started up the S Club, a high school version of the Soroptimist International of Ceres, at CHS. A Ceres resident from 1993 until her death, Beaver was active in the Ceres Dolphins recreational swim program, PTSA Sober Grad Night and Ceres High Boosters Club. She also served on the Miss Ceres Scholarship Pageant Committee.

Attending the event were her widower, Steve Beaver, and her two daughters, Libby Beaver and Amy Peterman. Peterman is principal of Central Valley High School. Holmes is a program specialist in Special Education.

Van Vleck said many have been questioning why Beaver Elementary is being constructed so far south of Ceres in the country. At the time CUSD planned for the schools four years ago, Ceres growth was projected to go in that area based on Copper Trails master plan.

Since the next wave of growth is expected to take place in the West Landing annexation miles to the west, CUSD petitioned to move the site of Beaver to West Landing but was denied.

"That's where we really feel the new school should be," said Van Vleck, "but the state already told us, nope, you've already been through the planning process; this location has already been selected so you either build the school here or you don't get the money."

City officials believe that West Landing will develop before Copper Trails.

All three schools will serve as "magnet" schools, drawing from the attendance boundaries of all existing schools, not necessarily their geographical region.

Hanline was the first of the three schools to start, explained Van Vleck, because of the need to relocate an irrigation pipe through the site before irrigation season began. Construction picks up this summer when adjacent CVHS closes since there is a need to shift the student drop off lanes to the right.

"What that does is that allows us to create an effective student drop off area for Hanline," said Van Vleck.

Each of the three schools will be constructed with a multi-purpose room / cafeteria. Initially, however, the respective school offices will take up classroom space since there is not enough money for an administration wing.

The district finds it necessary to a greater percentage of on grade modular classrooms than those built in recent years since they cost less than slabbed and stick buildings.

"The reason for that is the state says, hey, we're going to pay you $20 million to build the campus and it's just not enough money to build the campus completely stick built," noted Van Vleck.