Our district has been tied up in knots about what to do about Portola Middle School, which was to be renovated and now has to be moved. A parent, Mark Woo, is organizing a group of parents to make sure that, now that things have been restarted, a fair and objective process is used. As part of the preparation for the first meeting of this group, he sent around a timeline to recap what’s happened so far:


Many of the documents discussed in this timeline are posted at: http://briefcase.yahoo.com/fangwoo@pacbell.net

Videos of the School Board are at Youtube, just search “fangwood” and you will find them. Unfortunately there is a ten minute limit on videos, so Board discussions and staff presentations are broken into multiple videos

May 2006
The District sought to rebuild Portola Middle School. One of the requirements for such a project is approval from the State Architect. The State Architect sent a letter informing the District that “… it is opinion of DSA that there is significant risk of earthquake induced landslide. The potential for landslide is such that the health and safety of the pupils is at risk and must be corrected.” The letter and a map of slide zones from the City of El Cerrito are posted online. I have requested (but not yet received) the 2002 seismic analysis of the Portola buildings so that we can better understand what would happen in an earthquake even if there is not a landslide.

October 2006
The District holds for the first set of two public meetings to solicit ideas for replacing Portola are held at Harding Elementary. Staff explains that making the buildings seismically safe is too difficult/expensive and that the lower section of Portola and Cerrito Vista Park are not viable locations because of the slide zones (the State wants a 50’ setback from the end of the slide zone).

November 2006
The District holds the second set of two public meetings. The District presents various options for replacing Portola. District staff informs participants that the Board’s Facilities Subcommittee has instructed them not to study K-8 as an option and that they are focusing only on District-owned property.

January 10, 2007
Because of complaints from the Castro Elementary neighborhood about the District’s poor notification process, an extra public meeting is held to discuss the options.

January 17, 2007
At its regular meeting, the Board discusses the pending options. Pfeiffer, Ramsey and Kronenberg agree to remove Castro from consideration and agree to have Oxbridge (a private real estate firm) explore the availability of non-District owned land in El Cerrito.

April 4, 2007
At the Board meeting, district staff presented two proposals, the Fairmont Elementary School site and a combined middle/high school at El Cerrito HS. The meeting discloses that Oxbridge found no other viable locations (copies of the report have been requested, but not received as of yet – apparently Oxbridge verbally presented its findings to the Board in a closed non-public session). The Board votes 3-1 (Pfeiffer, Ramsey and Kronenberg aye, Brown nay, Miles not present) to select Fairmont as the “lead” proposal. No explanation of why they are selecting this option is provided. Of note, the staff presentation for the Fairmont site shows the new middle school’s footprint to include seven residential parcels, a public street and the El Cerrito Senior Center and library. No budget figures for the project are provided. Also, the staff presentation does not discuss what would happen to the Fairmont Elementary students. The Fairmont proposal in previous public meetings had been to move the elementary school students to the Alvarado Adult School site. When asked by someone in the audience about the students, Ramsey responded that they would be redistricted to other schools in the area.

June 6, 2007
The Fairmont community does a presentation for the Board on the proposed middle school relocation and closure of Fairmont, noting the impact on the seven residential parcels that are needed for the expanded middle school site, the inadequate size of the site and the impact of the loss of the elementary school. Pfeiffer, Ramsey and Kronenberg express concern about the decision they made in April.

June 20, 2007
The Board officially rescinds (5-0 vote) their decision to make Fairmont the “lead” option. The Board agrees to a new process for determining Portola’s replacement. It includes the willingness to be open minded and explore all viable options (including K-8), setting of criteria for making a selection and providing public notice by posting flyers at schools and in the West County Times.

July 25, 2007
The first meeting to discuss selection criteria is scheduled for 5:30pm at DeJean Middle School in Richmond.