Education

Abandoned high school in Natomas won’t be finished anytime soon. Here’s why.

A Twin Rivers Unified School District board vote Tuesday night dashed the hopes of residents in northeast Natomas who wanted a partially constructed, long-abandoned high school in their neighborhood to finally open.

The East Natomas Education Complex project initially was to serve 3,000 middle and high school students on a site near the Regency Park neighborhood, off Elkhorn Boulevard.

A more likely scenario, if funding were to become available, would be to open the site as a high school, said Bill McGuire, deputy superintendent. The district has been moving to more K-8 configurations at elementary schools.

But that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. The school board voted not to approve two general obligation bonds totaling $252 million that could have upgraded the district’s aging schools, completed the ENEC project and built a new K-8 school for the Greenbriar community, northwest of Natomas.

Board member Basim Elkarra, one of four trustees who voted against putting the facilities bonds on the ballot, said language in the resolutions was too vague.

According to the resolution for the high school bond, priorities included building out the existing structures and a play field at ENEC, as well as other unspecified safety and security measures and improvements.

“That was one of the main issues that sunk the resolution,” Elkarra said. “There were not guarantees to build it out. We don’t want to go back to the old days where promises are made and not fulfilled.”

Terrace Park Neighborhood Association President Carlene DeMarco has been lobbying for the completion of the school, but she agrees with Elkarra and the other trustees who voted against the bonds. “This time we want to get language saying they will finish the high school,” she said. “Students are being bused to Rio Linda and Norwood, and the high school is still sitting there.”

Taxpayers in Rio Linda, Del Paso Heights and parts of Natomas are currently paying about $50 yearly for each $100,000 of assessed value of their properties to pay off Measure G. The $230 million bond was put on the ballot by the Grant Joint Union High School District in 2006 to build the combined middle and high school, as well as other projects. Levies for Measure G are expected to end in 2039, according to district information.

At the time, the Grant school district estimated the bond would provide $45 million for ENEC, with the state paying $60 million and the balance coming from developer mitigation fees.

DeMarco said her annual tax bill includes a $67 charge for the Grant bond, as well as one levied by the former Rio Linda Elementary School District for $106, a $28 charge from the former North Sacramento Elementary School District and two bonds for $16 and $70 from Twin Rivers Unified.

“We didn’t like the fact we have to pay for the school again,” DeMarco said.

The proposed Twin Rivers Unified bonds — one for district elementary schools and one for its high schools — would have each cost taxpayers $38.34 for each $100,000 of their property’s assessed value.

Despite that, DeMarco said her neighborhood association and others are willing to support a bond if it were specific about the work to be done and had a reasonable price tag.

The history of ENEC is long and complicated. The state-of-the-art school was under construction when the Grant Joint Union High School District was merged with Rio Linda, North Sacramento and Del Paso Heights elementary school districts in 2007. The merged district, Twin Rivers Unified, inherited the $157 million project and halted construction during the recession. In 2011, Twin Rivers paid the builder $8.6 million to walk away from the project.

The only buildings on the inaccessible site now are a small gym, administration building and classrooms designed for the middle school, McGuire said.

More than $100 million has already been spent on the school, McGuire said. The cost to complete the middle school would be about $45 million and it would cost the school district another $50 million to $75 million to build the high school that had also been originally proposed for the site.

A performance audit of Measure G general obligation bonds completed in 2017 shows that the district has spent $161 million on 41 district projects including the purchase of land and the construction of the buildings for ENEC. After interest and other costs associated with the bond, the district has spent $307 million.

“There is no more money,” McGuire said. “All the funds have been expended. “

The next opportunity for a sale of Measure G bonds will be in 2028, but those funds will be used to pay debt associated with the project, he said.

The board has a July 30 deadline to approve a bond for the November ballot. But with no meeting scheduled, it isn’t likely to happen. That means it will be 2020 before the board can put another facilities bond on the ballot and even more time before construction can be completed on the deserted site.

In the meantime, parents of high school students living around ENECH have to decide whether to bus their children to other Twin Rivers Unified schools or try to get them into schools in nearby districts. High school students in the area are bused to Rio Linda Senior High School or Rio Linda Preparatory Academy, each about 3 miles away.

The lack of a school in the neighborhood also impacts the Twin Rivers school district, according to district documents. It estimates it loses millions of dollars annually in average daily attendance funding because the lack of neighborhood schools in the Natomas area drives students outside the Twin Rivers district.

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