Sacramento suburban schools expect growth

After delaying construction during lean economic years, Sacramento’s suburban school districts are preparing for a new growth spurt and the children that come with it.

Roseville City School District opened Fiddyment Farm Elementary this school year. Washington Unified in West Sacramento is planning to open a K-8 school within the next five years.

Elk Grove Unified – the largest district in the region – broke ground on a new elementary school in November and sees the long-term potential for 54 new campuses.

“It’s very clear the market is rebounding and coming back,” said Robert Pierce, associate superintendent of facilities and planning at Elk Grove Unified.

Pierce doesn’t expect the sort of growth the region experienced a decade ago, when the district pulled in about $55 million in developer fees a year. The 54 schools – including 40 elementary schools, seven middle schools and seven high schools – will be built as they are needed over the next few decades, he said.

But the pace is picking up. Last year, Elk Grove Unified collected $10 million in developer fees, more than double the amount in its lowest year, 2008-09, when it brought in $4 million. A recent update to the school district’s master facilities plan shows its student population is projected to expand from 62,000 today to 110,000 in 20 years. The district boundaries include the city of Elk Grove, as well as sections of south Sacramento and Rancho Cordova.

Since planners pay the district directly, it’s not too difficult for Elk Grove Unified to track building activity within its boundaries. They are suddenly seeing activity in subdivisions long planned, but left uncompleted during the recession.

New developments also are on the horizon. School district officials have identified 90,000 new housing units that are either planned or under construction within their boundaries. They include 28,000 homes planned along the Jackson corridor, 22,000 homes in the Sunrise-Douglas area in Rancho Cordova, about 20,000 homes in the Vineyard area and nearly 12,000 homes in Elk Grove.

That’s in contrast to other area districts that continue to see declining enrollment. Sacramento City Unified and San Juan Unified have closed a total of 18 schools since 2000, and the Sacramento County Office of Education has closed 10.

In Elk Grove Unified’s new facilities, maintenance and upgrades are funded primarily from developer fees and state bonds – about 40 percent each – with the rest coming from Mello-Roos fees paid by property owners, Pierce said.

But that’s not nearly enough to build multiple schools that can cost tens of millions of dollars.

School districts historically have lined up for matching state funding for new facilities and upgrades. Dozens of districts are already in the pipeline and waiting for state funds from a previous facilities bond, which California voters last passed in 2006 with Proposition 1D before the economic downturn. Of $1.9 billion designated in that bond for new construction, only $163.6 million remains available, according to the state Department of General Services.

Pierce said another new school construction bond measure is necessary.

“It is critical for my community and other areas looking forward to new schools. We will be in a very difficult position as a district absent state bond funding. We may only build half of what we need because we only have our local resources.”

Elk Grove construction workers broke ground in November on Marion Mix Elementary School – a project “earmarked many moons ago,” Pierce said. The two-story school at Laguna Park Drive and Franklin Boulevard will lessen the load at Irene B. West and Joseph Sims elementary schools, which serve 1,200 and 1,400 students, respectively, on multi-track, year-round schedules.

In the next five years, the district plans to build a new school in the Vineyard area of unincorporated Sacramento County, another in the Laguna Ridge Specific Plan in southwest Elk Grove and one in the Anatolia subdivision in Rancho Cordova, Pierce said.

That’s welcome news to parents in Anatolia, which currently has one elementary school and no secondary schools. Enrollment at Sunrise Elementary School increased enough this school year that some students are being bused into Elk Grove. Next school year, Sunrise will go to a multi-track year-round schedule, Pierce said.

“I’m excited they are building another school,” said Tara Hollowell, a Sunrise Elementary parent and member of the Parent Faculty Organization. “I do wish it would happen sooner than later.”

Hollowell hopes that the combined middle and high school campus planned for Anatolia will be built before her first-grade daughter is in middle school and has to be bused 12 miles to Elk Grove. District officials told parents at the beginning of the school year that such a project would likely take five to six years and cost $100 million, Hollowell said.

“The state is out of money for new schools and they don’t have money to staff it,” Hollowell said parents were told at the meeting.

The Galt Elementary School District is planning to build a new school in the next five to 10 years to accommodate the children expected to live in a development scheduled to break ground in the 2015-16 school year, said Superintendent Karen Schauer.

After opening Fiddyment Farm Elementary School this year, the Roseville City School District has another new campus planned for west Roseville in 2016 or 2017, according to Superintendent Rich Pierucci. The West Roseville Specific Plan area will have about 22,000 residents when completed, according to the city of Roseville.

Folsom Cordova Unified officials expect 56,000 housing units in the next 50 years within the district’s boundaries. They estimate these homes will bring 29,000 more students into their schools. More immediately, the suburban school district is planning for 13,000 new housing units in the next 10 years.

District officials say they will build and open new schools once enough students are living in a development to financially support a school. In the meantime, they will house those students at existing schools.

Natomas Unified, whose growth is hampered by a moratorium on new construction due to flood risks, hasn’t built any new schools in recent years. It will open a new middle school next year on its existing Natomas High School campus.

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