Board revisits plan for Portola middle school: KPIX-TV5, San Francisco CA, 6/21/07

The West Contra Costa Unified School District's board voted unanimously Wednesday night to reconsider its plans to move Portola Middle School to Fairmont Elementary School's campus.

School Board President Karen Pfeifer said today that while she believed that the board's original decision to move the school to the Fairmont site, at 724 Kearney Street, was a good one, she felt that the board needed to open the process up to the public before moving forward.

Many people in the neighborhood told school board members that they didn't understand what the decision was based on, and "Frankly, I found it difficult to answer their questions," Pfeifer said.

The original plan would have involved re-locating Fairmont Elementary School, the city's library and senior center as well as removing five homes and one small apartment building.

Only two of the homes affected by the original plan were owner-occupied, Pfeifer said, but those two families said they didn't want to sell their homes and wouldn't move.

Pfeifer said that the school board hadn't intended to use its power of eminent domain to force the families to sell, but thought they might reconsider their stance if a middle school was literally built up around their property with only a chain-link fence separating them from the school's 640 sixth through eighth grade students.

Residents near Fairmont Elementary School said they didn't want a middle school in their neighborhood. Their reasons, according to Pfeifer, included increased traffic, increased noise and increased trash tossed carelessly in the streets and in people's yards, a phenomenon that seems to occur around all schools.

Pfeifer said that some people also simply seem to be afraid of kids and don't want them around.

Although the school board may still decide to move the middle school to the Fairmont campus, after Wednesday's vote, they will now hold public meetings on the topic with agendas posted to notify members of the public and they will hire a California Environmental Quality Act consultant to help find other possible viable sites for the school.

The problem with Portola's current site arose more than a year ago when the school district began making plans to re-build the middle school and engineers discovered that it was on top of an ancient slide.

When the school was originally built, it met all safety standards of the time, but the state has since revised those standards, making the school no longer in compliance.

According to Pfeifer, the earth beneath Portola Middle School hasn't moved for thousands of years and had the school district left the school alone, they might never have discovered the problem. But now that they have discovered it, the school has to move.

"It's not our business to tell people how to live," Pfeifer said. "It's our business to provide the best education we can in the safest place possible.

KPIX-TV5, San Francisco CA: http://cbs5.com