Board Votes to Go Ahead With Building Wood Ranch School


After more than 200 Wood Ranch residents showed up to demand a long-promised school in their neighborhood, Simi Valley school officials voted this week to build the elementary school, which will likely cost $1.2 million more than originally expected.

"I moved to Wood Ranch from Sherman Oaks because I heard the promises of building a beautiful school and I went for it," said Neal Marter, whose eyes filled with tears as he described how badly he wanted a neighborhood school for his two daughters.

"We've been patient, but our patience has run out. Any further delay is unacceptable," he said.

Norm Walker, president of the Simi Valley school board, said the additional cost would not be a deterrent. "We'll build the school for 1998 [even] if we have to have cookie sales," he said at the Tuesday night meeting.

As proposed, to build Wood Ranch Elementary--including landscaping and grading--it will cost about $8.5 million, said Dave Kanthak, assistant superintendent of business services for the 19,400-student unified school district. But that exceeds the $7.3 million that the district had budgeted, he said.

In fact, one of the lowest bids to erect the school building alone was $6.4 million, which was $1.7 million more than the district had estimated, according to Kanthak.

During the meeting, the school board received comment cards from 222 people in the audience. More than a dozen parents spoke and urged the board to honor its earlier vow to build an elementary school near their homes.

"There's nothing like being able to call a school your own," said lawyer Ron Robinson, who has four children in the district.

Board members pledged that they would locate other sources of revenue, despite board member Carla Kurachi's concern that "you don't find money. You cut programs. Money is never found."

The district has four schools that it is not using. Grace Brethren Church operates a private school at one and the other three are leased for use as day-care centers. On Wednesday, Kanthak said the district is considering selling one or more of the leased facilities.

He added that the district is also considering how much it could make by selling its Wood Ranch Conference Center, its administrative headquarters and 36 acres of vacant land now leased to a strawberry farmer.

Kanthak, who will soon hire appraisers to determine the market value of the properties, said Belwood Elementary, one of the leased sites, had earlier been appraised at a little more than $1 million.

After receiving bids for building Wood Ranch Elementary, the school board decided not to scale back its original design. The district could have saved $20,000 by lopping off a bell tower, a $30,000 amphitheater and several thousand dollars worth of landscaping.

"We desperately need a new elementary school," Denise Guerrero, president of the Sycamore Homeowners Assn., told the board. "There is truly no more that we can cut. We didn't choose a Cadillac for a school, but a Ford--a family car."

And if the board were to make any substantial changes to the original designs, by law the contract would have to be reopened to bidders, which would delay the project at least six months, said Leroy "Max" Maxwell, a senior construction manager hired by the district to oversee the Wood Ranch school project.

Maxwell added that postponing the start of building would just end up costing the district more money because construction costs go up an average of 3% to 5% each month.

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