By Reggie Ellis
The Exeter Unified School District approached the Exeter City Council about the expansion of Lincoln Elementary School during the public comment period of its March 9 meeting.
EUSD Board member Dean Sutton asked the council to consider closing Clarence Street in order for the district to expand Lincoln School to the south along Highway 65.
"As you know Lincoln is landlocked," Sutton told the council. "Our only opportunity for expansion is to the south."
Sutton said the school would need to add more classroom space in the near future. Sutton said expanding the K-2 classrooms to the west (within the school's current boundaries) would diminish its playground. Highway 65 lies just beyond the school boundary to the west making that an impossibility. Going to the south, without closing the street, would mean encroaching onto the school's ball field. To the east is City Park and homes and to the north are more homes.
If the street could not be closed it would make the district's purchase of the lot across Clarence Street a waste of money. Superintendent Renee Whitson said the lot, on the southeast corner of D and Clarence streets, was purchased on Nov. 18, 2002 in anticipation of expansion. The Victorian style house - built circa 1904-1909 - that sat on the lot was purchased by Dr. Anne Hickey who relocated the home to Elberta Avenue after a lengthy process involving the Southern California Edison on Oct. 16, 2003. The school district then paid to have the lot leveled and resurfaced.
"Many tax dollars would be lost on that investment," Sutton said. "We are formally asking for your support at a later date."
Six weeks prior to purchasing the property on D Street, Whitson said the school district approached then City Administrator Roy Chace about closing Clarence for future expansion, something the school district had been discussing for eight or nine years. At an EUSD board meeting on Thursday, March 11, Sutton said the district made the decision to purchase the lot on D Street based on an informal agreement with Chace, who retired on Jan. 30 after 26 years with the City of Exeter.
"The city council did not realize that the school made the purchase based on the city's decision to close Clarence," Sutton said at the board meeting. "They [city council] were not made aware by the person [Chace] that the district had talked to about purchasing the property based on that decision."
Whitson said the main concern, if any, would be access to Highway 65 for residents on D Street, however, none have approached the district with any such concerns.
Whitson said the state may be leaning toward universal preschool in public education. A preschool facility in Exeter would logically be built on campus at Lincoln.
"It is likely that eventually we will have a preschool at Lincoln," she said.
Whitson said at one time Lincoln housed 900 students but was overcrowded. She said in order to avoid that, the school district has to plan now for an expansion 15-20 years down the road.
"Things change with time but we have to look farther down the road," she said. "The state isn't going to approve a plan where children are crossing a road, going from one activity to another."
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