Los Banos district acquires land for schools

tmiller@losbanosenterprise.comJune 19, 2013 

School officials secured the land for Los Banos' next three schools during a special meeting last week.

The Los Banos Unified School District board of trustees voted 5-2 to pay $1.51 million for 15 acres south of Prairie Springs Drive and east of Badger Flat Road, south of Target. That site will be a middle school or junior high.

"The district got a great deal on the property," Superintendent Steve Tietjen said, adding the parcel is equipped with water and sewage.

The board voted to acquire the other two plots, set to be elementary schools, using credit against future fees, known as settle-up fees.

Tietjen said in negotiations with Anderson Homes, the developer had agreed to pay greater impact fees on 334 homes built before 2005 as new homes were built or in a lump sum in 2019. Rather than wait to pay the fees in 2019, Tietjen said, the developer will give the district land for two elementary schools. The housing downturn has cut into construction, and the money developers collect from home sales to pay those fees.

One site is 7.95 acres north of East B Street, between Las Palmas Street and Place Road, and the other is 10 acres south of the Stonecreek Boulevard extension.

Tietjen said the sites make sense because no elementary schools exist in the area. Students in that area are bused to Henry Miller or R.M. Miano elementary schools.

Every school has about 25 percent to 40 percent of its students bused in from outside the attendance area.

Trustee President Chase Hurley said the board needed to do something about Los Banos Junior High's overcrowding.

The junior high campus had about 1,480 students this year, and district officials earlier this year estimated that number to grow to about 1,530 by next school year. The school was built for 900.

"We think we made a prudent choice," Hurley said. "There is some risk involved."

Hurley said the district needed to move, because land prices are on their way up.

In the meantime, the district will still have to accommodate the bulging campus with portables.

Schools are likely necessary as the number of households is expected to grow. City officials estimate Los Banos will see 100 new houses approved within the next year.

In response to that growth, the board of trustees voted in May to increase impact fees from $3.23 per square foot to $7.35 per square foot. The increase does not apply to developers who already have impact fee agreements with the school district.

In the past five years, Los Banos only saw one request for a permit to build a home.

Trustee Tommy Jones, who voted against the resolution with trustee Carole Duffy, said he agrees with the board that Los Banos needs more room for students. However, he said the district is paying too much.

"I think we could have got a better deal," Jones said.

Developers benefit more than anyone when it comes to building homes near schools, Jones said. Anderson Homes should have been willing to sell at less than $100,000 per acre, he said.

Jones said he was uncomfortable with what could be a financial gamble.

"They need to pay for it, they need to help," Jones said, about developers. "They don't need to put it on the taxpayers."

Construction is not expected to begin on any of the sites until 2015.

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