ORINDA -- A Michigan-based developer has bought a 10-plus-acre site formerly owned by the Orinda Union School District -- nearly nine years after signing a purchase contract with the district, and four years after getting city approval to build homes at the site of the former Pine Grove elementary school.

Pulte Homes announced Wednesday it plans to build 65 one-, two- and three-story single-family homes in this development called Orinda Grove. Eight duplex units will also be built to provide affordable housing to moderate-income families per city requirements, according to Orinda Planning Director Emmanuel Ursu.

The $19.5 million purchase caps nearly a decade of negotiations between the district and developers, who saw potential in the Altarinda Road property, just off Highway 24 east of the Orinda interchange. In recent years, it was the site of the abandoned Pine Grove school and deteriorating administrative and maintenance facilities.

At one point, Pulte had threatened to walk away from the project, claiming changes demanded by the city would mean the development wouldn't "pencil out."

Superintendent Joe Jaconette said the district wants to use proceeds from selling the land to fund facility improvements, and didn't want to pay significant demolition costs. "It was seen as a good option to market the site," he said.


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Pulte will build a new 7,500-square-foot school district office adjacent to the development as part of the purchase. Jaconette said the district will retain the land on which the office is built. Construction is estimated to take 18 to 24 months, and the developer has leased a temporary office site for the district downtown.

Proceeds from the sale are restricted by the state and can only be used for facilities, according to the superintendent. He said the district will complete planning and prioritizing critical projects outlined in the master facilities plan, which includes all schools in the district. Those projects include painting, addressing seismic safety issues, installing air conditioning and infrastructure upgrades.

Jaconette said the district has already completed some work, including the repair of a collapsed hillside near school facilities, with payments received before the final purchase.

The homes are expected to range from 1,533 to 2,672 square feet and models are scheduled to open in spring 2013.