Sacramento City Unified School District trustees Thursday night will consider a land swap with Cresleigh Homes that will allow construction of a modern central kitchen to help feed students at close to 80 schools.
Under the proposal, the district would trade its long-vacant former headquarters at 16th and N streets for 5.3 acres owned by Cresleigh Homes at 7050 San Joaquin St. close to Hiram Johnson High School and adjacent to existing district-owned warehouses.
The district has sought for years to build a central kitchen, with costs once estimated at up to $40 million including land purchase. Backers say a modern kitchen would streamline preparation of predominantly scratch foods and fresh local produce for about 47,000 students each school day and boost the quality of breakfast and lunch fare.
A new kitchen also would take pressure off dozens of elementary and middle schools with inadequate food-preparation facilities, according to the district. And it would reduce reliance on prepackaged foods and frozen entrees from third-party vendors.
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If the swap is approved, the district would turn over its 1.2-acre parcel at 1619 N St., which is occupied by a historic 1923 structure that once housed the Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. Developer John Hodgson, working with Cresleigh Homes, in 2014 described it as “the crown jewel of midtown.”
Board President Jay Hansen said Tuesday that trustees will meet in closed session about the real estate deal before having a full deliberation and vote during the public portion of Thursday’s board meeting.
“The properties have to be of like value,” Hansen said. “The school district can’t give a gift of public funds. So we can’t lose money on the deal. We have to make sure, at a minimum, that the properties are of equal value. It would be even better if our property is worth less. They might be willing to make a deal in the interest of the school.”
If the deal makes financial sense for the district, he said he would be “very excited to jump right into this. It would be a flagship project for Sacramento City school district.”
Discussions about the future of the N Street site have gone on for years. Hodgson began talking to the district on behalf of the Cresleigh group in fall 2013. By spring 2014, multiple potential developers came forward. Among their ideas for the site: retail, townhouses, a boutique hotel and an American Indian health center.
But when the district issued its request for property exchange proposals last July, only the Cresleigh group responded, said Cathy Allen, the district’s chief operations officer.
Hodgson said in 2014, the Cresleigh group acquired an option to buy the San Joaquin Street site for just under $1.4 million in hopes of one day being able to swap it for the midtown property. The district already owns adjacent property for a range of functions, including library textbook services and mail services, Allen said. “All in all, it makes sense for the district to acquire a piece of property that’s adjacent” to current holdings, she said.
Hodgson declined comment on Tuesday. But the Cresleigh group in 2014 proposed a $40 million project for N Street, working with Vrilakas Architects. That plan called for ground-floor retail and market-rate housing, at least six stories of residential and, at 17th and N streets, a cafe bistro with indoor-outdoor seating. Work at the site would require permits from the city of Sacramento.
Allen said if the deal goes forward, the district will have access to nearly $41 million in Measure R bond funds voters approved in 2012.
The $68 million total bond measure identified a central kitchen as an authorized use for the funds among a host of other improvements, though it did not specify that the kitchen would consume most of the Measure R money. Among other proposed uses were playground and equipment upgrades, HVAC renovations and new athletic fields.
Tentative plans call for a 50,000-square-foot central kitchen with potential for a second-floor culinary academy available to Hiram Johnson and other high schools in the district.
But, she said, construction is likely to be costly.
“When we first started, I probably could have delivered it in under $40 million,” Allen said. “But today we’re talking about a lot of (bond) money hitting the streets in the near future. So we’re building in a cost escalation. We’re going to see large (cost) escalations because there won’t be enough people to do the work.”