La Cañada school board hears report on master plan and proposed $149M bond

The La Cañada school board received details Tuesday night pertaining to the prioritized list of school site projects in the facilities master plan, as well as a proposed $149-million bond slated for the November ballot that aims to primarily fund the execution of the master plan. These items will head to a board vote later this month.

Chief Business and Operations Officer Mark Evans said facilities master plan work has been underway since last fall and has been conducted in multiple meetings with a wide range of stakeholders. Irvine-based architecture firm LPA, Inc. met with maintenance and custodial staff, teachers across grade levels, an executive steering committee and a facilities master plan committee, representing a cross section of district staff, families and community members. A district committee convened to gather and contemplate input on campus’ needs established the plan’s highest priority items for each school site in a meeting last month.

“Projected costs for the first phase have been developed,” Evans said. “And we’ll bring a final draft for approval at the June 20 meeting.”

The total prioritized first-phase construction costs for the school-site projects are approximately $101 million, according to LPA. This breaks down to about $24 million for La Cañada High School 7-12, $27 million for Palm Crest Elementary School, $25 million for Paradise Canyon Elementary School, $25 million for La Cañada Elementary School and $3 million for the district offices. The total project cost is estimated at $252.5 million.

Stakeholder feedback strongly favored spending on modernization efforts, including repairing or replacing leaky roofs, old plumbing and electrical systems. Improving student safety and security was another identified priority, according to LPA, which includes campus security systems, lighting, cameras, emergency communications, smoke detectors and fire alarms. Next favored projects included upgrading science labs, career technology education for college preparation, and then after that, LPA representatives said stakeholders wanted updates to classrooms and instructional technology for advanced classes in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

At the high school, the top ticket items proposed are technology upgrades, a 33-meter pool, infill of an existing pool area with an outdoor basketball court, relocating the junior varsity baseball field, replacing the “home side” bleachers and adding an accessible press box, renovating the administration lobby and making safety and security upgrades, including fencing.

At Paradise Canyon Elementary School, the top proposed changes include technology upgrades, a new two-story building, modernization of existing classroom buildings, storm drain and electrical capacity upgrades, a new lunch shelter and new safety and security measures.

At Palm Crest Elementary School, upgrades include technology, a new two-story building, a two-story administration and kindergarten building, modernization of existing classroom buildings, a sewer system, parking pick-up and drop-off changes by demolishing the former district office at the north end of the site, and a new lunch shelter, among other upgrades.

La Cañada Elementary School had similar proposed upgrades, such as technology, safety, security and classroom modernization upgrades, as well as a new two-story building for increased classroom space, windows for all classrooms, more restrooms on campus, including adult restrooms and a kindergarten play area.

LPA representatives stated items excluded from the project budget include escalation, off-site work and traffic signals, utility hook-up fees and city connections, any potential land acquisition costs and hazardous materials surveys, abatement and disposal.

The proposed and prioritized classroom construction costs in the plan constituted the bulk of the spending, totaling approximately $50 million. One parent spoke out in opposition during the public hearing portion on the agenda item, specifically opposing two-story buildings on elementary school campuses, especially Paradise Canyon, and also advocated for a larger pool than proposed for the high school.

“All three elementary schools need more classroom space,” said Dan Jeffries, board president, who added they are looking at prefabricated and portables. He said the district would prefer to replace the home bleachers at LCHS with aluminum, which is included in the current costs, and talks of refurbishing the existing bleachers would knock that cost down. ADA upgrades also must be addressed with the bleacher line item.

Also at the meeting, the board unanimously approved to enter into a contract with Santa Monica-based law firm Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth, which will act as the school district’s bond counsel in relation to potential solicitation of voter approval.

Overseeing the general obligation refunding bonds resolution presentation for the June 20 school board meeting is Adam Bauer, president and chief executive of Irvine-based Fieldman, Rolapp & Associates, Inc. Bauer outlined the role his firm will play in advising the school district and financing team, in terms of providing legal parameters. An underwriter, who does not have fiduciary responsibility, will purchase the debt with the intent to resell to investors.

“That combination makes my recommendation to you to consider refinancing before you have this general obligation bond approved,” he told the board.

The school district has three general obligation bonds outstanding since the election of 2004.

Also Tuesday’s meeting:

  • The board unanimously approved the La Cañada Teacher’s Assn. 2015-18 contract agreement changes. Assistant Supt. of Human Resources Jeff Davis told the board the union reached its tentative agreement on May 25. Key highlights include certified employees receiving a 0.55% retroactive pay increase dating back to July 1, 2016, and an additional 1% increase permanently added to the entire 2016-17 salary schedule, beginning July 1. Davis added that a memorandum of understanding was approved on the school time late start for grades 7-12, as well as an MOU for online grading to increase the number of grades teachers will have input into the system.
  • The board unanimously approved the La Cañada Parcel Tax Oversight Committee’s accountability report for 2016-17. Chairman Carl Husfeld presented the report, saying the committee was pleased to see that district funds were spent appropriately by what was approved by local voters. He said about 22% of funding went toward technology upgrades, classroom-size reduction, STEM courses, as well as arts, music, foreign language and librarians.

Matt Sanderson is a contributing writer to Times Community News.

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