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School district bond money focus now on elementary schools

The Petaluma City Schools District has spent more than 40 percent of $89 million in voter approved bonds, upgrading school facilities, playing fields and bolstering technology.

The district is expected soon to issue $9 million in bonds for the next phase of school improvements as the focus for projects shifts from secondary schools to elementary schools.

Two measures were approved by voters in 2014, one for $68 million for secondary schools and another for $21 million for elementary schools earmarked specifically for repairs, upgrades and construction projects at the district’s 18 schools.

Petaluma City Schools Superintendent Gary Callahan said before the upcoming sale of the elementary school bonds that the district still had $38 million in secondary school bonds and $15 million in elementary school bonds available.

“We don’t issue the bonds until we need the funds,” he said.

Callahan said the district has benefited from its strong AA bond rating and a recently released “Final Assessment” score upgrade to good, resulting in a substantial interest-rate savings. Still, he said the district will not be able to do everything it had hoped to do with the bond funds.

“We are pleased with what we have been able to do,” he said. “We are not pleased that we don’t have the economic environment we anticipated. We won’t be able to do everything we had intended to do.”

He added that the October fires that ravaged Sonoma and Napa counties also resulted in a significant escalation in construction costs.

Since being approved by voters, the district has used bond proceeds largely on the secondary schools with major field projects at both Casa Grande and Petaluma high schools.

“We’ve spent quite a bit of time and money on the high school projects, now we’re going to be focusing on implementing elementary school projects,” Callahan said.

Unlike the highly visible secondary school projects that brought the new fields, a major overhaul of the Petaluma High School gym and, soon, a new swimming pool to Petaluma High, the elementary school projects are directed more toward retrofitting, repairs and maintenance.

Callahan noted specifically the need for roofing, painting, lighting, telecommunications systems, windows, HVAC upgrades and playground improvements.

Several elementary schools have already benefited from major improvements using bond funds.

McKinley School received a face lift with a completely redesigned entrance area, reconfigured vehicle entryway and drop off area and new walkways.

Penngrove School has a new and improved traffic flow pattern and significantly more sidewalks to help students and parents navigate through the school parking lots. Improvements to the school basement are scheduled for the near future.

Mary Collins Charter School at Cherry Valley students have a new athletic field and track.

Grant School will have its outdoor surface areas completely redone.

A district-wide technology initiative outfitted all students with their own school-provided device. The next step is to improve the bandwidth in all schools to help students better use the technology now available to them.

Food preparation areas district-wide are being renovated and improved.

Two major secondary school projects, new synthetic fields and tracks at both Petaluma and Casa Grande high schools, have been completed at a cost of around $4 million for the Casa Grande project and $7 million for the Petaluma project that required extensive renovation to bring the facility into ADA compliance.

Callahan pointed out that the district was able to take lessons learned from the Casa Grande project to help with the job at Petaluma High. He also noted that it was helpful that the Petaluma project was completed by FRC, Inc., a Petaluma-based company.

“We were very pleased with the contractor,” Callahan said. “We’re hoping to have that kind of relationship in the future.”

Other major projects are in the works.

Currently underway is a new swimming pool at Petaluma High School to replace the failed original pool.

“It will be a brand new L-shaped pool,” said Callahan. “We started from scratch. The only advantage to putting it in place of the old pool is that we already had the hole in the ground.”

Cost for that project is about $2.7 million. Plans are underway for a new performing arts theater for the entire community that would be located on the Casa Grande campus.

“It’s just in the planning stages,” said Callahan.