MARTINEZ -- Deidre Siguenza, who was appointed to the school board in January, likely will decide whether the district will build a new facility for Vicente Martinez High School and Briones Independent Study School.

Board members Denise Elsken and John Fuller want to amend the decision to spend $5 million in bond funds to build a new campus. Kathi McLaughlin and Bobbi Horack want the project to proceed.

Following a lengthy discussion Monday, Siguenza said she needs more information.

"I'd like to make a full and informed decision as to whether we're going to amend it," she said.

The board is scheduled to discuss the issue again Aug. 10 and vote on a proposed amendment Aug. 24.

When the district placed the $45 million bond measure on the 2010 ballot it said the funds would pay to install solar panels, expand the performing arts building at Alhambra High School, upgrade classrooms, build space for a culinary arts program, and add career and technical education classrooms.

In April 2012, the board split 3-2 on whether to dedicate $640,000 to fix up the decrepit buildings that house Vicente and Briones or to spend about $5 million for a new facility for the two schools.

McLaughlin, Horack and Vicki Gordon, who in November won a seat on the Contra Costa Community College governing board, voted in favor of the proposal to build a new facility. Elsken and Fuller opposed the project because it wasn't included on the original bond project list.


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The district's architects on Monday said it would cost $2.4 million to modernize the Vicente-Briones campus. But it will cost the district more to maintain, heat and cool the refurbished buildings.

The board learned last summer that the proposed site for the new campus is near natural gas, gasoline and oil pipelines running under Alhambra Avenue and G Street. Although the California Department of Education says the pipeline risk is below the threshold, Elsken is wary of building on the property.

On Monday, Elsken offered an amendment to the motion the board approved last year calling for the district to spend up to $200,000 to explore options for a Vicente-Briones campus.

"I'm not doing this to kill this project," said Elsken, who insisted that she wants to improve the existing buildings. "Before we drop a box adjacent to a gas line we should look at the project."

But McLaughlin said all the schools in Martinez are near gas lines and the district can't use bond funds to buy new property.

"I think it sets bad precedent that people who lose a vote will constantly try to bring it back and change it," she said, adding that it's disingenuous for Elsken to say the proposed amendment isn't an attempt to stop the project.

Many of the people who urged the board to build a new Vicente-Briones campus cited a need for equity and fairness. Although the campus has been fixed up in the past, the windows still leak, the sewer backs up and the classroom phones don't work when it rains because the wiring is on the building exteriors, administrators said.

Fifty-one percent of the students who attend Vicente or Briones receive free or reduced price lunch, compared to 28 percent of students districtwide.

"What we have now is really discrimination going on," Principal Carol Adams said.

Martinez Councilwoman Anamarie Avila Farias said Vicente and Briones students deserve to learn in a healthy, clean environment.

"It's not a question about money, it's about investment and who we want to invest in," she said.

Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.

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