The Valley View Elementary School near Latrobe Road is nearly complete, but won’t open its doors to students until more homes are sold in the Blackstone master planned community it serves.
Until then, the $16 million school will become an interim district headquarters.
Woodland-based Broward Construction is on track to turn the site over to the Buckeye Union School District in May 2013. The campus can be student-ready for the fall 2013.
The March 2011 district census found just 40 students in kindergarten through fifth grade in Blackstone, leaving outgoing Superintendent Terry Wenig and her board with a tough decision: whether or not to break ground knowing that, barring a groundswell of home sales in Blackstone, there wouldn’t be enough students to support opening the school.
The groundbreaking took place in June 2011 as one of Wenig’s last official acts before retirement.
Lennar homes officials report that an estimated 200 homes are currently occupied, but even if those homes contain the district average .45 elementary school student per household — new communities often fall well below that average for the first several years — the school is well short of a quorum.
Blackstone students currently attend Brooks Elementary School in Park Village. Wenig’s successor David Roth, who took over as superintendent last year, said those students will continue to attend Brooks through the 2013-14 school year, at least — with simple math driving if, when and how the new school opens.
The key determinant, said Roth, will be whether enough students reside within school boundaries in some combination of grade levels to justify forming an inaugural Valley View class.
He left open the possibility that a single grade level might be opened first, adding that Blackstone families with students currently enrolled in another elementary school would most likely be given a choice to let their student finish out elementary school there or move to the new school. He promised to communicate with parents as the decisions approach.
Blackstone’s master developer is West Valley LLC, a partnership between AKT Development and Lennar Communities. The 990-acre project occupies a two-plus mile stretch of Latrobe Road, east of the El Dorado Hills Business Park.
The Valley View Specific Plan also includes “East Ridge Village,” an additional 600 lots in the hills east of Blackstone’s initial home sites.
The school boundaries encompass Blackstone, including the planned East Ridge Village, for a total of 2,100 eventual homes, according to “construction update” published on the district Website in March.
The boundary bisects the Lesarra condominiums on Valley View Parkway. It excludes the adjacent Mercy Housing low-income project, White Rock Village, as well as Sunset Mobile Home Park and Creekside Greens Village, which lies along Monte Verde and Concordia drives, immediately east of the Montano d’ El Dorado retail center.
Planning for the school began in the mid 1990s. The site was approved in 1999 and the district submitted final drawings to the state in 2007, according to a 2011 interview with Wenig.
Then the economy tanked. Sensing that the overall project cost and funding options might be more favorable sooner than later, Wenig said she and her board decided to put it out to bid.
The construction update lays out how the financing fell into place. The $22.5 million preliminary estimate came in at $15.7 million, shaving $6.8 million off the cost of the project.
State grants were available for $9.2 million, and would have been forfeited if the district didn’t proceed by March 2011. The developer formed and funded a Mello-Roos Community Facilities District, which currently generates $1.3 million annually. The CFD held more than $3 million by early 2011.
State building code changes would have pushed the cost of the school up another $300,000 if it was delayed.
The school sits on 13.5 acres, and will initially be able to handle roughly 600 students in 27 classrooms. Pads for portable classrooms to handle future expansion were included.
Temporary home for district HQ
The construction update explains that moving the district administration to Valley View will free much-needed parking at the district’s current headquarters, adjacent to Buckeye Elementary School in Shingle Springs, where prior expansion cost the school half of its parking lot.
Importantly, the cost of the move is covered by a construction fund, with little impact on the general fund, according to the Website.
The old administration building in Shingle Springs needs expensive repairs, including ADA upgrades. “The land is more valuable as a parking lot, so it will be demolished,” said Roth.
He called the move “an interim solution” until the classrooms are needed for students, at which time, “We’ll find another home.”
Roth and Facilities Director Ray Boike took a reporter on an abbreviated site tour earlier this month. The school entrance is on Blackstone Parkway, south of the clubhouse, and features a large drop-off and staging area, designed to minimize before- and after-school congestion.
Separate drop-off areas are provided for buses and kindergarteners.
The administration/library building and the multipurpose room dominate the entrance, with four single-story classroom buildings clustered south and west of the parking/dropoff areas.
The campus includes a turf athletic field, a hard court area and ample parking. Several student gathering areas are located between buildings, with landscape buffers throughout. An adjacent 5-acre active sports park will be built by Lennar and maintained by the El Dorado Hills Community Services District. It is not part of the school.
CSD joint use
At 9,000 square feet, Valley View’s multi-purpose room is a full 2,500 square feet larger than a typical elementary school gym. A joint use agreement with the CSD and some extra cash made it possible.
The state picked up half of the extra cost, but required the joint-use partners to split the difference. The fiscal math works out to $465,000 each for Buckeye and the CSD, with the state contributing $912,000.
On weekdays the CSD will typically take over the gym between 3 and 4 p.m. Weekend and evening programs can also be offered.
The two districts have a long and successful history of sharing facilities, said Boike. “Our afternoon programs and theirs are servicing the same students, so the scheduling is a near-perfect compliment.”
The school incorporates sustainable building techniques and materials, exceeding Title 24 energy efficiency standards, said Boike. The district recently landed a PG&E grant for a roof-top solar array that should offset the entire campus’ electric bill, he added.
Roth doesn’t pretend to be happy that he wont’ be able to open his new school next year. “Informed citizens will recognize that moving forward with the school … was appropriate given the facts of the situation,” he said.
“We have to take the long view on this,” he added. “The financing was very favorable, so we acted. This school will be a great resource for the community once it’s open.”