Visalia Unified reworks project list, budget to find the funding needed to renovate 40-year-old Golden West High School
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – Darice Vieira was among the first graduating class at Golden West High School in Visalia. She remembers the school opened in 1979 with hand-me-down desks from Redwood High School, no band uniforms, and students and parents had to plant trees on campus using money they raised themselves.
She provided that little history to the Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) Board of Trustees on May 14 after hearing that the big modernization project at Golden West was being scaled back after the bids came back 75% higher than estimated.
“We always referred to ourselves as the step children of Visalia Unified,” said Vieira whose husband is now a teacher at the school. “It seems like things don’t change very much. I am asking the Board for support of Golden West because they still feel like the step children 40 years later.”
Board member William Fulmer agreed, saying he was tired of seeing Golden West treated like the “red-headed step child” of the district. He, as well as fellow board members Juan Guerrero and Lucia Vazquez, asked why lights at the tennis courts and the service drive were not part of the project list.
“We only need to see one student killed and all of the sudden we will find the money,” Fulmer said. “How about if we find it before?”
Robert Groeber, assistant superintendent of administrative services for Visalia Unified, said $19 million is still budgeted for the Golden West but bids came in at $33 million. In order to try and do as many project as possible, Groeber said the district removed buildings from the project list that were not kid-centric, such as the office and library, which reduced the project to $28 million. By reducing the number of phases, Greober said the district will be able to lower the cost to $25 million. To bridge the gap between the $19 million budget and the $25 million price tag, Greober said VUSD is taking $6 million set aside for the boiler/chiller replacement at La Joya Middle School and El Diamante High School and using it at Golden West.
“Instead of doing projects over 22 months, it may take 3-4 years instead,” Groeber said.
Board member Guerrero suggested using developer fees to install lights along the service drive and the tennis courts. Groeber said developer fees cannot typically be spent on anything other than constructing new schools. Groeber said the cost of installing those lights could be folded into a different project, such as safety improvements across all campuses. This could be funded using Measure A funds as site safety improvements were listed on the bond measure’s project list. Measure A is a $105 million bond measure approved by VUSD voters in 2018.
“I have concerns when the budget is off this much just for the Golden West project,” Vieira concluded her comments. “It begs the question, will the other promises made ever come to fruition for Measure A?”
Golden West was just a collection of a few of the $225 million in projects being done this summer. VUSD will replace the roofs at 11 buildings on seven campuses, install new flooring in three buildings at two campuses, repaint six sites, lay asphalt and concrete at 11 sites, replace heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems at five sites, and irrigation projects at four sites. The district is also planning on making the band room at Mt. Whitney ADA accessible, installing sinks in 14 classrooms at Sycamore Valley Academy, adding portables to five sites, and removing portables at Goshen and Hurley elementary schools now that Denton Elementary will be opening this fall. Work is already underway to modernize Ivanhoe Elementary and the science labs at Redwood High School.
Groeber said this summer’s project list, whether or not they are finished this summer, represent the last of Measure E, a $60 million bond approved by voters in 2012. Going forward, the district will begin Measure A projects including site security at all campuses, building updated science classrooms at the high schools and middle schools, modernizing 18 more sites, as well as building VUSD’s fifth high school.