By MARTIN ESPINOZA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
On a narrow stretch of Burbank Avenue in Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood, an impressive $28 million elementary school has been under construction since last spring.
The new school on 11 acres adjacent to Roseland Creek is designed to take in 400 to 500 children now crowded into two other Roseland School District elementary schools.
But plans to open the school in the fall are in jeopardy.
The bulk of the money that would have paid for a half-million-dollar sidewalk along Burbank Avenue from Sebastopol Road to Hearn Avenue is no longer available. That money was supposed to come from Santa Rosa’s redevelopment agency, which along with every other such agency in the state, was eliminated as of Wednesday.
Without a safe route for children to walk to and from the school, the city will not allow the campus to open.
“The walls are up, the windows in,” said Superintendent Gail Ahlas. “We’re building this amazing, beautiful school with a creek and an outdoor environment, we just have to believe that there’s a solution to be found.”
More than $417,000 in city redevelopment funds had been promised for construction of the 5-foot-wide asphalt walkway south of the school that would run along the east side of Burbank Avenue to Hearn Avenue. North of the school, the path would run on the west side of Burbank Avenue to Sebastopol Road.
Sidewalks are rare along Burbank Avenue, a two-lane road sandwiched by steep drainage ditches, culverts and patches of gravel in front of rural homes.
About seven years ago, when Roseland school officials began planning for the school, Ahlas approached the city and county in hopes of finding funding for the Burbank Avenue sidewalk. No portion of the $28 million in state funds to build the school could be used for sidewalk construction beyond the front of the campus.
The school district’s talks with city and county officials led to a funding agreement — the county would pay for a share of the project using money from a Safe Routes to School grant, a Caltrans program, while the city would use redevelopment funds.
The county has used money from a more than $650,000 Safe Routes to School grant for the first phase of the pathway project, which includes $264,000 for installation of a traffic signal at Burbank Avenue and Sebastopol Road.
Money from the Caltrans grant also went to buy $54,250 worth of tiger salamander mitigation credits, $30,000 for installation of street lighting and $1,200 for a right-of-way property acquisition on the southwest corner of Burbank Avenue and Sebastopol Road to allow for the installation of pedestrian light signals.
The city redevelopment agency had pledged $417,000 for most of the pathway construction, with money from the Caltrans grant covering the difference.
On Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors was to consider awarding the contract to build the pathway to Ghilotti Construction Co., which had bid $509,728. However, the item was removed from the agenda because the redevelopment money was no longer available.
Ahlas said the city is requiring a safe path to and from the school “as a condition of granting” water and sewer hookups.
The demand stems from the 1998 death of an Elsie Allen High School senior who was struck and killed by a vehicle while he was walking home along a ditch-lined road.
More than a decade ago, the issue delayed the construction of Jack London School in the Piner-Olivet School District, largely because of a disagreement between the city and the district over pedestrian safety measures.
Dave Gouin, the city’s director of economic development and housing, said the redevelopment funding model was designed for projects like the Burbank Avenue sidewalk.
Part of the justification used by the state to eliminate redevelopment agencies has been more funding for schools. But the pathway project, Gouin said, would do just that. “This is money that is intended to help a local school that is now being swept by the state theoretically to help the schools,” he said.
Gouin said the complicated process being set up to determine how existing redevelopment assets will be used to pay off obligations will be slow and cumbersome. That process, which could include money for the Burbank pathway, could take until June, he said.
Tom O’Kane, deputy director for the county public works department, said he’s trying to divert money from a separate Safe Routes to School grant for Water Trough Road, which intersects Bodega Highway just west of Sebastopol.
He said that completed project cost $375,000 less than originally estimated, and he’s trying to get Caltrans to let him use the remainder of the grant for the Burbank Avenue pathway.
Caltrans’ initial reaction was “no,” he said, but he’s going to keep trying.
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or email@example.com.