The Napa Valley Unified School District has approved $735,609 of last-minute construction bids as it battles to complete work at several campuses in time for the next school year in August.
Trustees voted 6-0 Thursday night in favor of the emergency authorization, which clears eight contractors to complete utility and site work at 11 schools in Napa and American Canyon without a bidding process. Projects covered by the order include adding a modular classroom at Browns Valley Elementary School and installing electrical systems for similar temporary rooms at five other sites.
Late-arriving information on enrollment for 2014-15 combined with construction at multiple sites – including the installation of 11 modular buildings across the district last week – to force the decision, according to Don Evans, Napa Valley Unified’s director of school planning and construction. Without the last-minute approval, he told board members, the district risked lacking enough desks for all students or delaying its opening day, a step last taken in the summer of 2001.
“There were a number of challenges this year,” Evans said. “It’s no one’s fault. It’s just the way all kinds of things came crashing down. … Even today, I don’t have (Division of the State Architect) approval for every one of those projects.”
A clause in California’s public contracts code allows school districts to bypass the bid process – and the public notice it requires – for work “necessary to permit the continuance of existing classes,” so long as trustees unanimously support the emergency spending.
The open enrollment process – in which parents apply for a limited number of child transfers from one elementary school zone to another – is combining with the gradual reduction of class sizes to force the addition of extra rooms, according to Maren Rocca-Hunt, director of elementary education. Conversion of old classrooms into computer rooms further squeezes the available teaching areas, she said.
Besides Browns Valley, five other elementary schools – Donaldson Way in American Canyon, as well as Mount George, Northwood, Snow and West Park in Napa – will add temporary classroom space. The emergency funding also will pay for data and power lines for computer labs at Browns Valley and Snow.
“In the past, the model was classrooms, a multi-use room and offices, and that was your basic elementary school,” Rocca-Hunt said Tuesday. ”There’s a lot of need for other kinds of spaces now.”
Temporary buildings will expand teaching space at elementary schools, where class sizes will be reduced first. The cap on children per kindergarten and first-grade class will drop from 29 to 26 in the new school year, then fall again to 24 in 2015-16; by 2018-19, the 24-pupil limit will apply through the third grade, officials said.
Uncertainty about how many children will attend which schools has made timely planning of improvements difficult, Superintendent Patrick Sweeney told the school board.
“The open enrollment timeline is forcing us to figure out where students will be late, hire teachers late, and do things like these facilities late,” he said. “We’ve got to look at ways to get open enrollment done sooner, which may mean we move it to before winter break.”
“It’s great and wonderful that we’re able to have class size reduction,” said Rocca-Hunt. “And we also have to accommodate it.”