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No storybook ending for Disney Elementary modernization project

A study session two years in the making elicited comments of disappointment, disbelief, anger and frustration from several of the 60 parents who attended a Walt Disney Elementary School modernization get-together on campus Tuesday.

A special meeting of the Burbank Unified school board included presentations by Supt. Matt Hill, with input from Molly Hwang, the school’s principal, and district consultant Stephanie Pulcifer.

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Hill gave an update on the project to upgrade Disney Elementary, which has been named a California Distinguished School in the past, using Measure S bond funds. Some of the improvements included the installation of two portables, modernization of 11 classrooms and the school’s restrooms, along with replacing the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

Hill said the price was estimated to be $6.4 million, which includes contingency funding for higher-than-expected construction costs.

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“You’ll have the same number of classrooms as you have today, including those leased portables, but we’re going to utilize the space with a better configuration,” Hill said.

That answer frustrated many parents. Those who spoke nearly unanimously said the biggest issue was a lack of space on the 2.7-acre, 22-classroom campus.

“The problem is we don’t have enough rooms, as is,” parent Nicole Martin said. “What I’m seeing is we’re going to have the same amount of classrooms. We don’t have enough after-care for our kids.”

The meeting on Tuesday followed up on a March 2016 town hall in which district officials set aside $3.3 million for upgrades.

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At the time, the plan was for a two-story structure, rather than the two portables. The estimated cost was $6.4 million.

That proposal was scrapped by Hill, who said that plan’s price is now estimated between $9.6 million and $9.7 million.

With $3.3 million set aside, the district applied for matching funds from the state of California in November 2016.

Though the district’s bid was accepted, Hill said the state is only going to award $1.1 million. On top of that, the money had still not arrived.

“We have no idea when we’re going to get it,” he said.

Even so, the district trimmed costs off other district renovation projects to raise the Disney budget to $6.4 million.

“As far as expanding Disney, we don’t need to expand it,” Hill said. “We just need to maximize the space you have now for programs and support.”

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Many Disney parents rejected that premise.

“I am completely gobsmacked that this is the plan,” parent K.C. Johnson said.

She added that, while pointing to the lower left bottom of the blueprint, “I see … this plan was made up in October 2018, and we haven’t seen any plans since 2016.”

When board member Armond Aghakhanian asked parents how many extra classrooms were needed, attendees flipped the question toward Hwang.

“You’re putting me on the spot,” Hwang said. “One, for sure, and two would be ideal, but one to give us breathing room.”

Hill said he would ask the district’s facilities department for new estimates for a two-story modular plan and inquire about taking control of a vacant nearby Burbank city building for after-care services.

He also said district officials plan to hold another town hall meeting about the Disney Elementary project after Thanksgiving.

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