MARTINEZ -- The City Council is urging Martinez school board members to uphold their decision to build a new campus for Vicente Martinez High and Briones Independent Study schools.
This comes as school board member Denise Elsken has proposed amending an April 2012 decision to spend $5 million in bond funds for a new facility and instead allocate up to $200,000 to explore options for the Vicente-Briones campus. The school board is scheduled to consider the amendment Aug. 12.
At the recommendation of Councilwoman Anamarie Avila Farias, the council last week agreed to send a letter to the school board expressing support for a new campus.
"Vicente-Briones School desperately needs these improvements due to the dilapidated and deteriorated existing conditions," the letter says. "We need to provide our school teachers with the tools they need to teach and inspire our children, and this starts with creating an inspiring learning environment that is safe and welcoming."
Last year, school board members struggled with how to stretch $45 million in bond funds to cover a long list of projects across multiple campuses. 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.
School board members Kathi McLaughlin, Bobbi Horack and Vicki Gordon, who in November won a seat on the Contra Costa Community College governing board, voted in favor of new construction. Board members Elsken and John Fuller opposed the project because it wasn't included on the original bond project list. Elsken didn't welcome the council's input.
"The school board does not send them letters telling them how to run the city. I would appreciate if they wouldn't send us letters without having all the facts," Elsken said Friday. "Whatever they think, that's fine. They're citizens; they have the right to comment on our business."
At the June 24 school board meeting, Deidre Siguenza -- who replaced Gordon in January -- said she needed more information before making a decision. Although the Vicente-Briones buildings have been fixed up before, the windows still leak, and the sewer backs up. The district could modernize the campus for $2.4 million, but it would cost more to maintain, heat and cool the refurbished buildings, according to the architect.
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. The state Education Department found that the pipelines' odds of failure are below the threshold for "acceptable risk."
To avoid building on top of the pipelines, the architect scrapped the design for an open campus with a courtyard in favor of a two-story "box," according to Elsken, who insists she isn't trying to stop the project.
"I asked to amend the original motion so we can take a closer look at this entire project and get the best facility there that we can and know what a reasonable budget is," she said.
The council's letter points out that all of the schools in the district sit on or near major pipelines, as does most of Martinez.
"I'm sure that they're thinking 'What business is it of the City Council to tell them what to do?' " said Councilman Mark Ross. "But we've been helpful to them. When they needed help, we were there, so they get our opinions, too, if they get our help. Sorry, that's part of the deal."
Two years ago, school board members rejected a proposal to ask the city to keep medical marijuana dispensaries from opening within district boundaries, saying it wasn't their place to tell the council what to do.
WHEN: 9 a.m. to noon July 29
WHERE: Vicente Martinez High School, 614 F St.
WHAT: Tour of campus and presentation on options for the site.
For more information, call the Martinez Unified School District at 925-335-5800.