Education

Aging San Juan middle school to be closed

Sylvan Middle School will move to Citrus Heights Elementary and the grade-school students will combine with Carriage Drive Elementary. The Sylvan school is too expensive to fix or rebuild.
Sylvan Middle School will move to Citrus Heights Elementary and the grade-school students will combine with Carriage Drive Elementary. The Sylvan school is too expensive to fix or rebuild. rpench@sacbee.com

Trustees for the San Juan Unified School District voted Tuesday night to move students from the physically neglected Sylvan Middle School to the adjacent Citrus Heights Elementary in fall 2016.

Trustee Greg Paulo, calling the Sylvan campus “grossly substandard,” said there are too many other school-improvement needs throughout the district to warrant spending up to $44 million on rebuilding the aging school.

“This would be a real easy decision if this was the Citrus Heights Unified School District,” Paulo said. “But it’s the San Juan Unified School District, made up of about seven different communities.”

Board President Lucinda Luttgen agreed: “The board is elected by the whole district,” she said. Just to repair the campus, she said, would cost about $30 million, “and we still would have an old school.”

Opponents for months have objected to the elimination of a campus that has operated for so many decades, and they voiced uncertainty over the fate of popular autism programs at Citrus Heights Elementary.

The board voted 4-0, with trustee Larry Masuoka absent, to remove students from the middle school and, instead, use the best buildings at Sylvan for district programs and services. Superintendent Kent Kern, who recommended the changes, said Sylvan “has been neglected for some period of time.”

The decision also means Citrus Heights Elementary students will attend a consolidated K-5 campus with Carriage Drive Elementary students starting in fall 2015. The autism programs will be moved to other campuses, but their existing staffing will move with the students, keeping the programs intact.

Vacating Citrus Heights Elementary will enable the district next year to modernize that campus and transform it for middle-school use at a cost of $18.3 million.

The upgrades are to include four science labs, a music room, innovation lab, art room, locker rooms and restrooms. Workers will transform kindergarten classrooms into a media center and will add outdoor shade structures for eating spaces. The district also plans specialty equipment for lab spaces.

Julia Neuhauser, a parent, community member and preschool teacher at Citrus Heights Elementary, objected.

“We are not looking at the educational outcome,” Neuhauser said. “We are talking about money. Our students are being shortchanged.”

But Jenifer Cox, a teacher at Sylvan, said the process needs to move forward.

“I believe there will never be a solution that will please everyone now,” she said.

District consultants in 2013 started analyzing schools in the district and identified more than $2.4 billion in needed repairs. The consultants, the DLR Group, ranked the 76-year-old Sylvan as being in the worst condition of any school.

Sylvan has been one of the most active school sites for injury claims, does not meet Americans with Disability Act requirements, and would cost at least $44 million to rebuild, according to district officials.

The old Sylvan School was built by a local farmer in 1862 at the northwest corner of Auburn Boulevard and Sylvan Road, site of the existing middle school. It was one of Sacramento County’s earliest rural schools, according to a city of Citrus Heights online history. In 1927, when it was deemed too small to serve as a grammar school, it was moved to its current site at 6921 Sylvan Road to serve as an occasional community clubhouse.

Call The Bee’s Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaSacBee.

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