MARTINEZ -- The Martinez Unified School District cannot build or improve the Vicente Martinez and Briones campus at the site on F Street at Alhambra Avenue.

Superintendent Rami Muth said the California state Department of Education Allocation Board denied the project application to use Measure K bond funds.

The school site was considered unacceptable because it is transected by two gas pipelines, one water line and three oil pipelines. That means the existing school cannot be improved and no new public school may be built there.

In fact, the state suggested the site be abandoned, according to Cheryl King, senior associate with Jack Schreder & Associates. King represents the firm hired to plan the project and shepherd it through the state approval process.

King explained there was a belief that the project could qualify, based on 2007 state standards, but apparently state protocol has changed in light of the 2010 PG&E gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno."

That does not mean that there is a timeline for the school's closure.

Board members appeared dismayed by the announcement at the May 19 meeting, although they had prior knowledge of at least one gas pipeline. Muth had informed them of the state denial when it was received May 15. Muth said she also immediately gave the news to Vicente and Briones administrators.

"I want a clarification of what our next steps are," board member Denise Elsken said.

King said the district can reapply under the Facility Hardship Program rules using the same plans at a different location.

"We made an inventory of all of the properties that the district owns ... The corporation yard could potentially work," King said.

She mentioned the John Muir Elementary School site could be large enough to add Vicente/Briones, but it has high voltage power lines running through it, and the state would require a wall separating the elementary school from the new school.

Even the corporation yard site has some drawbacks because is not large enough for sports fields, but probably fields at Martinez Junior High School could be used.

Board member Kathi McLaughlin suggested the John Muir Elementary property could be used for the adult school and the alternative high school by reducing the number of elementary schools to three, and enlarging John Swett Elementary School.

Noting that there are about 160 students at Vicente, John Swett parent Julie Betti said a decision of that nature should be done with public input.

"We need to figure out the right forum, let the public know and get community input on a strategic plan. All the kids in the district matter," she said.

McLaughlin said she was just brainstorming out loud and wanted to make sure the board considers every option.

Muth acknowledged that there had not been an exhaustive search for another site prior to the narrowly approved board decision to go ahead with the plan for a new school at F Street.

After a lengthy discussion, including a Vicente teacher's suggestion for downtown locations, the board decided to review the corporation yard as an option, and simultaneously look for other one-acre sites, even outside the city limits.

Board members continued to question King, who said that costs already expended cannot be recovered; the application process could possibly be completed within four to six months if the same plans could be utilized and an alternate site is found within about 30 days. "You can submit the conceptual plan for approval and the full funding application at the same time," King said.

She reminded the board that the district will only get 50 percent of the funds upon approval and emphasized that she could not accurately estimate the time frames with so many variables and required approvals.

Board president John Fuller asked Muth how soon she would be able to provide a list of alternate sites, since there are no board meetings in July. The superintendent said she hoped to have options for board review within 30 days.

There are three remaining school board meetings before the July break: June 9, June 16 (A special discussion meeting on plans for phase two Measure K funds) and June 23.

Contact Dana Guzzetti at dguzzetti10@gmail.com.

or call 925-202-9292.

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